I took my son out to eat, and he actually enjoyed it. I do not mean that I took him for a chicken nugget meal, or a double cheeseburger at his favorite fast food restaurant. We went to a restaurant with no drive-up window. It was a restaurant where you sit down, someone takes your order, then returns some time later with your meal.
When we arrived at the restaurant we were told it would be 20 minutes before they could seat us. For a moment I had a PTSD response. The last time we had to wait to be seated the whole family was out. There was bickering, and tears, and looks from other adults without children that said, "Why can't you control those children?" Granted, that was several years ago, but at that moment, it felt like yesterday.
As we sat waiting for our table, we talked about school, baseball, computer games, and only twice about how long we had been waiting. My heart rate slowed and I was able to enjoy that conversation.
We were seated near a family with two small children. A young couple on a date occupied the table on the other side of them. The children made the noises that young children will make as they awaited the arrival of their food. The young man on the date kept glancing over and scowling.
At one point the father and I made eye contact. He had just noticed one of the scowls from the young man on a date before he looked at me.
"Your children are adorable," I said, then added, "And so well behaved."
He took a deep breath and smiled.
I wanted to give the young man on a date some advice. I wanted to say, "Don't scowl now. If this date, and the next several are successful, this will be you in a few years. Then someone will scowl at you."
Then I remembered that until you have been a parent you cannot understand that these are not miniature adults that will do what you ask if you just say, "Please." Their lives have been so short to date that 20 minutes seems like eternity to them. Yet, there is something about them so endearing that you are willing to brave judgmental stares to take them to a real restaurant. There is something about the way they see the world that makes you see it differently.
I could see what the young man on a date could not. I was sitting next to two people who did not try to impress anyone, who trusted that their parents would love them and care for them. I understood afresh what Jesus meant when he said, "Let the children come, to such as these belong the Kingdom of Heaven."
It was not that children back then were better behaved. It was that children do not try to pretend they are self sufficient. More importantly, they know what faith really means. Rather than being annoyed, we can learn something from them.
I have been a priest for 16 years. I spent the first four years in Minnesota and Wisconsin, six years on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, before becoming the pastor at Advent Episcopal Church in Westlake in 2010. If anyone would find it interesting I have a son and daughter, which I refer to as a matched set, a wife, a dog, and a cat.