Dear Andrew—I Want You to Say Your Prayers

Dear Andrew,

Have I ever told you about the night after you were born? It was rough. You cried, then ate, then slept, then cried, then ate, and ate, and ate, and drowsed for a little while. I couldn’t fall asleep with you lying on me, and there was nothing going on in that cold hospital room, so I watched my iTunes. Specifically, I’d just bought the Bernie Madoff miniseries from ABC with Whoever as Bernie and Blyth Danner as his wife.
That show didn’t get very good reviews, but I like it a lot. Maybe it’s the character of Bernie Madoff: someone you didn’t feel bad for and never will, dispassionately telling you how he pulled it off. It satisfies a weird kind of curiosity. Also, I have always been interested in shows and books that explore the fallout of someone’s bad decision. I have a lot of anxiety and I live in constant fear of someone or something ruining everything for me, and Bernie ruined everything for everyone. The show doesn’t pull any punches—everybody’s story gets told. It’s even SAFE in a weird way—what’s the worst thing I would ever do? It won’t be running a Ponzi scheme to defraud people out of billions of dollars.
Why was I watching that with my brand new son, my first night with him ever? I don’t know. But I remember this—in your little shoebox thing they have you sleep in, you turned your little cherry-tomato face towards the show. You were fussing because I’d put you down, but you heard the dialogue of the Bernie Madoff show, and you turned your head towards it. Like you were watching it with me; our first movie night together.
I chuckled, wondering how much you could even hear. It was such a funny idea—a tiny baby watching the random Bernie Madoff miniseries. You’ve watched a lot of random things with me since then—Bob Ross’s “The Joy of Painting”, Cookie Monster’s “C is for Cookie”, Fiddler on the Roof, and CNN’s The Seventies. You really loved the theme song for The Seventies—as soon as Nixon started talking, you couldn’t look away. Once we got you to sleep that way—played the theme song over and over until you nodded off in your grandmother’s lap. It might have just been the music, but it makes a funny story.
That was when you were a BABY. You’re not one anymore—you wear the biggest size diaper there is (I didn’t know they made 7), you have light-up Batman shoes, you can quote Finding Dory to anyone and you don’t need my help eating your lunch. You concentrate really hard when coloring with crayons—little crayons, not the big egg-shaped ones you started out with. You draw “my circles”, covering the paper in rings. You even know your ABC’s (most of the time). And at night, you brush your teeth and say your prayers before staying asleep all night in your Star Wars pajamas.
Or that’s what you’re supposed to do, anyway. You’re supposed to drink your glass of water while I read you I Want My Hat Back, and then let us brush your teeth, and when it’s time for “Drew’s Prayers”, you’re supposed to put in the effort. But lately, that hasn’t been happening. And it bothers me.
I know you want one more drink of water; I know you don’t want to go to bed yet. The life you have is so much fun and so full of possibilities, toys, and friends—of course you don’t want to go to your crib alone while we’re having fun in the other room (we’re not, but maybe it sounds like we are—watching The Office and folding all your little clothes). I know you’re smart and I know you know that after prayer time, bedtime happens. And of course you want to stall. But why do you have to stall during prayer time?
We’ve always done this the same way. I’ve said, “Okay, time for Drew’s prayers,” and sung the beginning of the little kids’ benediction beloved of daycares and Mother’s Day Out— “Thank you, thank you, thank you God, for our family, friends and food.” Now that you’re a big boy, I leave the “God” and “food” out for you to add in yourself, and just a few months ago you were still saying it. Your little voice would answer, “Got?” Like it was a question. And “for our family, friends and—,” would be answered with “Foot?” One time you stuck your little toes out and said “feet?” We giggled, and said “amen”.
But lately it isn’t working. I say, “thank you, thank you, thank you…thank you…Drew, who are we thanking? Drew?” And you’re just sucking down water from your sea-creatures cup. Any petition from us to finish the prayer, and you ignore it. If we take the sea creatures cup away temporarily, you scrunch up your face and wail pathetically, “My wata! My WATA!” When the water cup is empty, you yell, “My toofbrush!” You haven’t said your prayers in ages, it seems.

Maybe I shouldn’t let you have a glass of water during prayer time. Maybe we should change the prayer. Maybe this doesn’t mean anything in the grand scheme.

What am I doing wrong? I know this may not be that big of a deal, but…

Oh, how am I to know what a big deal is? You know I want you to pray, don’t you? And that I want you to talk to God? Even if you don’t like praying aloud, I get it. But I don’t want struggles against me and my routines to become the framework for you to struggle with God. And if you get mad at me, will you get mad at Him? It’s hard enough that Daddy and I are the ones who have to introduce you to Him, and we have no idea how well we’re doing and may NEVER know.
Maybe at this toddler stage, it’s best for me to take all your reactions with a grain of salt—you have a tantrum almost daily, and sometimes it’s just because I say, “It’s time to put clothes on.”

This reminds me of the first time your daycare teacher told me you’d been “a little mean”. I think you were about nine months old, and “mean” consisted of your mistreatment of the smaller babies during tummy time—specifically, “pulling hair and taking toys”. I carried you out to the lobby and said, “Now listen to me, Drewbear…I don’t want to hear anymore that you were ugly. No. My baby is sweet.”
For a child that barely said anything coherent and couldn’t walk yet, you clearly knew you were being read the baby equivalent of the riot act. You looked down smugly, didn’t look me in the eye, didn’t offer me the normal hug…

The first time I caught you pulling someone’s hair was a few months later, I think—I walked into daycare and there you were, playfully jerking on somebody’s curls. “Andrew,” I said sternly, looking at you. I picked you up and said, “Drewbear, look at me.” The same dodging glance…and then you gave a loud, fake laugh and snatched my glasses away. No hugging, no babbling. You knew. It’s hard to explain how I KNEW you knew.

All this is to say, Andrew, you have the propensity for sin. That means that if somebody tells you to do something, your first response will be to refuse. Even if that someone is me, and the instruction is “hand me the crayon” or “please don’t throw that at me.” And if I say, “It’s bedtime, let’s say prayers,” you’ll want to stall. When something doesn’t go your way, you flail your arms and scream. And I KNOW you know that’s wrong, because you keep wanting to read that book No Hitting.

I think you feel about that book—where the little kids express the desire to squeeze the cat, hit the baby brother, stick out the tongue, or yell and scream, but choose better options—the way I feel about the Bernie Madoff miniseries. There’s a safe, giant gulf between your story and that story. You may get angry and yell “mine!” But we don’t have a cat to squeeze, and there’s no brother to smack around—so that kind of behavior belongs purely to the realm of the dramatic. You love a good story, just like me; you watched the Bernie Madoff show with me, didn’t you? And maybe that’s why it scares me so much every time you show a tiny sign of misbehavior or sin nature…I know you’re my son, and you’ll get your default settings from me.

Whether I like it or not, my voice will ring in your head your whole life. And I can’t really control which things stick: you love it when I quote Chicken Run in that Northern England accent, but that’ll be forgotten when you have a new favorite movie. What about the mean things I might say about other people—will those stick in your mind? What about the jealous, envious feelings that come out in my conversation or the complaining that slips out? What about the time I accidentally hurt your feelings? What if I accuse you of something you didn’t do? What if I make fun of something without knowing you love it? What if I get angry and yell? What if I do all that stuff before I can make up for it with kindness and patience? You’re a captive audience, you can’t look away from your parents.

Look, I don’t care if you finish the “Thank you, thank you God” prayer. I don’t care if you cross yourself or don’t, or if you pray out loud or silently or prefer to pray in the woods surrounded by pine trees and squirrels. I just want you to pray. And I can’t teach you how to pray, I can only teach you that you SHOULD pray.
I always pray that God will teach you in your sleep; maybe one day you’ll wake up and hear Him calling “Andrew”. I just want you to say, “Here I am.” That’s the way it begins, isn’t it? Like in that Prince of Egypt movie that Mommy cried through and made you watch on Easter—God calls your name, and you say, “Here I am.” After that, it’s between you and Him. I don’t want you to let anything stand in the way of that…not independence, or fun, or “my wata”.
I guess this is more about Mommy’s faith than yours, Drew, because your faith is a mystery at the moment. Someday we’ll talk about how God built you in Mommy’s tummy and moved so many thousands of things around so that Mommy and Daddy could meet and be your parents—about how God spared Pop Pop’s life while Pop Pop’s faith increased—how Daddy became a follower of Christ—how Mommy had a faith crisis the year before she met Daddy. But that isn’t your story, the tale of how God Went in Search of Andrew. That story is yet to be written in a way that I can see it. And you’re the one who says the “yes” and “no”.

When I was in Ireland, it was Mother’s Day (by the way, I don’t EXACTLY expect a present for American Mother’s Day, but you and Daddy can figure it out together). Someday I’ll take you to Ireland and talk more about faith. Anyway, Pop Pop preached at a small church, and the Pastor (not the Priest, it’s different—you’re always on the lookout for “priests”) said a lovely prayer that Mommy has not been able to get out of her mind.
“Lord, we thank you for these mothers, and for the children they have born. We pray that the desires of their heart will be fulfilled, and we know they can have no greater desire than to see their children walk with You.”
I DO want that—I want it so much, and I can’t MAKE it happen. I can only say the same things over and over: “God loves you, Andrew,” and “Thank you, God.” We’ll get the idea into your head somehow, with Veggie Tales songs and Sunday services where priests say beautiful old prayers. We’ll sit under stained-glass windows that show people kneeling reverently, two-dimensional hands clasped. And Daddy and I will keep praying for you, even though you sit there sipping “wata” and saying nothing.
I prayed for you, and God gave me what I asked. I asked for a human being to bring up in the reverence of the Lord. I thought it would be no big deal. I was wrong; I can imagine no bigger deal.

I love you,

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