Our kids need more than inspirational messages to nurture perseverance ...
September is a month of change and growth, akin to January with its New Year’s resolutions, as we watch so many children, grandchildren, extended family and maybe even ourselves start a new school year. Right on the heels of the “back-to-school” whirlwind, if we’re lucky, comes a little time for personal reflection on the experience — even if that precious time is nabbed while driving or making dinner.
My revelation came at daily Mass where I had retreated to find some peace and consolation after a week of hectic planning and worry leading up to the big first day of school. While my son had a healthy dose of jitters, the main worry was mine — how would my little boy fare on his first day apart from me for so many hours?
Before school started, I asked him what kind of backpack he would like. Shown a few different styles, he enthusiastically chose a backpack with the Finding Nemo and Dory fish characters from the films of the same names. The backpack bears the slogan “What Do We Do? We Swim!” We recently watched the Nemo and Dory films and all of us were struck by how tenderly and thoughtfully the bond between parent and child is depicted. Dory frequently urges, “What do we do? We swim. Just keep swimming!” We discussed how “just keep swimming” really means persevering, doing your best, and staying the course. Children face countless challenges each day in school: academically and socially. And we parents, as we face the many challenges of raising them and the equally hard task of letting them go, to grow into builders of God’s kingdom, we remind ourselves, all: Just keep swimming through the waters of life.
I was delighted with the message my son’s backpack bears, the daily reminder to give each moment your best, but I needed something more. And so, before I knew it, I was attaching a blessed St. Benedict keychain to the zipper of his backpack, praying to that saint of protection to watch over my boy. My 5-year-old said, “I like that St. Benedict is going with me to be my friend and help me. But I need Joseph and Mary, too.” “Oh, they’re with you,” I assured him, with a joyful laugh and a tear in my eye. “I hope they tell Jesus he can come play at our house any time,” he added.
Then the first day of Kindergarten came, and as he walked away nervously but excitedly, the St. Benedict keychain swung jauntily from his backpack, the message, “What Do We Do? We Swim!” shining in the early September sun among the friendly faces of Dory and Nemo. My son did not look back. The pride I felt in his bravery and beauty seared through me. I wondered, how would he do?
After he went on his way, I went to daily Mass to light a candle for his first day and pray just for him. The reading for the day was 1 Corinthians 3 and St. Paul affirmed, speaking to men he called “infants in Christ”: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.”
I could not get over the grace of this reminder, given on this day of all days: the first day of school. As parents, we plant and water constantly, but lest we forget, it is not we who cause the growth. We are God’s laborers and if our work is sincere we will be repaid by the master, but “it is God who causes the growth.” I could feel a burden lifting from my shoulders.
May all of us as parents “just keep swimming” through the waters of life (or even better, take Jesus’ hand and walk across them!). May St. Benedict pray for our children, and keep them surrounded by his protection and love, that, especially when we are exhausted from all the earnest labor of planting and watering that goes into raising good children, God will take over and will cause glorious growth.