Suffer the little children, and their parents, too

By Leo Campos

I have heard and read much about Jesus’ openness to children. In his day and time children were not of much more value than cattle, if that much. So for Jesus to permit children to “bother” him was different enough to merit a mention. It is also one of those small little details which seem to me to be proof of the impact of Jesus in the lives of those who followed him.

It is also, in my opinion, proof of Jesus’ celibacy – against those inclined toward a gnostic or DaVinci-esque view of Jesus. Only a really cool uncle would say such a thing about children. Of course, Jesus never said such a thing directly to my youngest son.

Case in point: taking my 3-year old to school can turn any morning into drama of epic proportions. Part of the difficulty is that he is one of those kids who absolutely must do everything for himself – no matter that he lacks the finer motor control or the experience or both. He must get it himself, do it himself. He will not tolerate any help…even though without help he cannot (physically) do the task. Even though if I did it we would be out of the house already and I would not be late for work. No matter. A typical conversation will go something like this:

“Daddy I want milk!”

“What do we say?”

Pause. He looks at his father and practices the look he will give me 20 years hence at the early onset of dementia, “I. Want. Milk.”

I adjust my glasses, the International Sign of Infinite Patience and explain, “We say ‘please’.”

“Oh yeah. Please? Milk? Please!! I said please.”

“Yes you did. Here’s your milk,” and I hand him a glass of milk, in his favorite white plastic cup which turns purple with the temperature of the liquid.

“No,” he frowns, crosses his arms, and if he knew how, he would probably tap his toes too.

A puzzled look crosses my face, and instinctively I check the cup to make sure it really was milk I poured in there, remembering that one time when it involved my wife’s kefir. “Don’t you want milk?” I stretch the glass to him.


I look at this child like someone looks at a small but extremely dangerous animal that is making threatening noises, “You asked for milk!”

After a few seconds of death-staring each other, I say, “Ok. Don’t have any milk. See if I care. Do you know how many starving cows in Timbuktu would love some milk?”

I try my best to slam the milk down with dignity and focus my attention back on doing my cereal box lectio. My cereal now is mushy. A few minutes later I hear, “Look Daddy I got milk.”

Suffer unto me indeed. But Jesus did not mean this particular pint-sized lovable terror; he meant the approach to certain things in life which all children share. For example, regardless of how the day begins, without or without military interventions, duct tape, and sugar frosted cereals, when we get to the car the request is usually the same: “Daddy can we say prayers?” By this he means he wants to listen to my CD of Morning Offices which I got from GIA Music (highly recommended, by the way). So we put it on and listen and sing along to the psalms and the canticles.

On my wife’s side of the family, music is an integral part of their self-identity. Everyone, it seems plays various instruments well, has a range of multiple octaves, and can usually be counted on to start some sort of sing-along around the piano – and that’s just the pets. My tone-deafness and general music analphabetism elicits the same sort of look one gives to those brave souls who wear their Phillies hats out in public.

The other day our little one was singing to himself the intro to the Offices (“O God come to my assistance, Lord make haste to help me”). I could tell it was in tune because my beloved wife was frantically calling the DNA research lab, canceling the DNA tests, and just as quickly dialing her family and holding up the phone so they too could hear it.

But the issue with the daily singing of hymns goes deeper than musical appreciation or even family affiliation (and perhaps a larger percentage of inheritance later in life). The point is that my son finds routines comforting. Children, it seems, make natural Benedictines – they thrive on the day-in day-out routines: certain predictable things happen in certain predictable hours, in certain predictable days. My little one quickly memorized what days he could bring a book and what days he could bring a toy to daycare. He must have dinner no later than 5:45 EST. He demands a certain amount of reading every night – usually from a limited collection of “best” books (a collection which his older brother is always trying to expand). And then there is “compline.”

“Daddy. My brother has not read me a book.”

In the background I hear a “Did too!” from his brother.

“But son, I heard him in there with you for the past half an hour,” I reply hoping against hope his mother will be home soon.

Silent pause. He looks at me on the couch with the practiced caring disdain of an overworked nurse, “He has not read me a book,” he repeats probably figuring out that all adults are hard of hearing.

“Which book?” I ask putting down my own reading, the international sign of Fantastic Daddyship.

“Don’t let the pigeon drive the bus!”

“Ok – let’s go read the book.”

And after reading, not one but three Mo Willems books plus a few others, there is the bathroom run, and then the prayers. The “friend light” (night light) has to be on and the correct blanket in place. And on and on.

Routines – they bring stability and, strangely, an opportunity to explore and play. Play is much better when carried out within boundaries. There is perhaps a certain feeling of security which routine affords. Those of us who recite the Daily Office find their constancy and their repetition extremely comforting. While novelty is the fastest way to happiness, repetition is the surest road to joy.

Instead of ruing the boredom of our lives, we should spend sometime thanking God for routines – and then setting about doing the work He has given us to do within that routine. To complain of boredom and routine betrays a lack of creativity and of insight – both of which are fundamental tools for a deep spiritual life.

Children, especially my lovable younger one, are masters of creative ways of existing within the boundaries, of playing in and with the boundaries. They are masters of living. Let me suffer unto the little children and learn to live better.

Brother Leo Campos is the co-founder of the Community of Solitude , a non-canonical, ecumenical contemplative community. He worked as the “tech guy” for the Diocese of Virginia for 6 years before going to the dark side (for-profit world).

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