As children, we once skipped naturally. It was second nature. But then we grew into adults and forgot how to skip. Somehow we lost touch with the spontaneity of childhood and with the wonders around us.
Our society doesn't allow children to enjoy childhood for very long before pressuring them into becoming miniature adults. Life becomes more about achievement and passing tests than living life and growing at a natural pace. More about meeting state and national standards than about learning for the sake, and for the joy, of learning.
And that’s why we forget how to skip.
After contemplative prayer one night, Judy, who was leading the small group, asked if anyone had something to share. As though we were still students at our desks in school, Bill raised his hand. “Does anyone in here remember how to skip?” He asked. None of us responded because, quite honestly, no one knew how to answer. It had been so long since we’d felt that free and natural.
Bill then challenged us all to skip back to our cars. He led this strange adventure, skipping right out the door as though he’d never grown up at all (and here he is a grandfather).
That’s when it first dawned on me that I could no longer skip. What had once been my natural mode of moving was now awkward and contrived. I called out to Bill. “Hey, could you please stop and show me how you do that?”
As we skipped through the parking lot back to our cars, we heard distant thunder.
The applause of heaven.
One day when my daughter, Abigail, was six years old the two of us were out taking a stroll in the neighborhood. As we came upon a church playground she asked if we could stop and play on the swings and slide for awhile. Unlike most of the playgrounds in town, the gate to this one was padlocked.
I explained to her that only the children who went to that school could play in there. Did she want to be enrolled, by chance? I knew it was an expensive private school, but still, if she really wanted to attend we’d make a way. The school did have an excellent reputation, unlike so many in our area.
Besides, I’d homeschooled my other kids forever and surely I deserved a break? Wasn’t it about time for me now? I daydreamed of having six hours to myself everyday to write and complete another manuscript. And the school was only two blocks from our home, so in case I ever needed to rush right over... Sounded like the perfect plan to me.
And so we finally bit the bullet and enrolled our third child in school. There was only one problem: both Abi and I were miserable. Every morning she was sick: nervous stomach. And I became more frustrated by the day. Why couldn’t we all just be normal?
Tears fell and nausea hit every morning like clockwork when her feet hit the floor and she was conscious of the day ahead. Why was I putting her through this? Who at that school could possibly love her the way I did?
When we walked into the building each day, parents would give me sympathetic looks, as if to say, “I’m glad that’s you and not me.”
She must not have noticed Mom the Spy in her canary-yellow Volvo cruising five miles per hour down Roundtree Street about the same time everyday when her class was out on the playground for morning break. There she sat all by herself, playing with sticks while the other children ran and played with each other.
On Fridays the school attended morning mass. One Thursday evening Abi brought a prayer home to practice reading for the following day. I sat next to her and listened as she stumbled through the big words she’d never heard. “Mom, what does purgatory mean?” She asked. I wanted to say, “Well, it’s sort of like what you’re in every day when you go to school. If you pass all the tests, you’re promoted, and if you don’t, well…” But instead I explained it something like this. “It’s a bit like time out. You have to sit in purgatory until you realize what you’ve done wrong. Then you’re released.”
One Friday I sat in the sanctuary before the students arrived for morning mass. During that time I had a sudden revelation that would drastically alter my plans. The poem I wrote upon returning home that day explains it best.
Oh very young what will you leave us this time
You’re only dancing on this earth for a short while...
- Cat Stevens
Sunlight pours in through these windows, pure
and stainless as the souls of saints. Fourteen
Stations of the Cross line white walls. Our Lady
of Humility looms forever holy over vigil candles.
At Friday morning mass frankincense fills the room,
invades my nostrils like a rich perfume. I sit in this
sanctuary with a handful of moms and dads, awaiting
the arrival of our grade school “Angels” uniformed
in plaid. Breaking our prayerful silence like a sudden
storm, comes the tap-tap-tapping of a toddler’s feet
on the floor of stone. Bowed heads lift and turn
instinctively to see a frustrated mother struggling
uselessly to contain her daughter’s energy. An
epiphany hits as I watch this child carted away in
Mom’s firm arms, while restless legs still kick to
a rhythm in her heart that only she can hear.
Now it’s clear what I must do, and soon – as clear
as if etched on tablets of stone. With no regrets I
collect my own child and take her home lest she
forget how to laugh and play or skip across a room.
Morning Mass was first published in Windhover
University of Mary Hardin-Baylor Press