I have often been struck by the fact that parents know their children so little.
—The prince, in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Idiot
“Where are we off to next?”
With bellies full of mostaccioli drenched in tomato sauce and cartoonishly large pizza slices, we left Cossetta’s (an institution among St. Paul’s Italian restaurants) and headed toward the Minnesota State Capitol.
“Ah,” my twelve year-old grinned, “we haven’t been there in a while.”
I smiled and nodded.
Ever since my two daughters could walk, I have taken them on Weekday Adventures. Stepping away, one day a week, from the weighty demands of a busy internal medicine practice, I see the world through the eyes of two squirrelly, witty, delightfully inquisitive little girls—little girls, I might add, who are growing too fast. These outings have been pure magic for me.
Week after week, one Thursday succeeding the next, we’ve exhausted mini-golf courses and biking trails, batting cages and roller gardens, swimming pools and movie theaters. Lunch with mom, when able, was always a high point. We’ve hit candy stores and bookstores, malls and libraries. Even post offices and banks, police stations and Target have hidden mysteries that we have sought to unveil. To the banker: Where do you keep all of your money? To the Target employee: Why did they arrange the clothes to be here and the groceries to be there? To the policeman: Could we see your gun? To the postal worker: How do you keep the thousands of pieces of mail from becoming lost or confused? Our adventures would reassure G.K. Chesterton when he lamented, “The world will never starve for want of wonders, but only for want of wonder.”
But beyond the playful outings and necessary errands, my daughters and I (and my wife, whenever possible) have also haunted the ornate and formative landscapes of the St. Paul Cathedral, the Basilica of St. Mary, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, the Museum of Russian Art, the Minnesota Science Museum, the Children’s Museum, the Bell Museum, Fort Snelling, the Sculpture Gardens, and the Arboretum. Walking and talking, holding hands or riding on my shoulders, Weekday Adventures have been an irreplaceable joyride of pressing questions in pursuit of interesting answers, deep conversations, and a lot of laughter.
To be sure, Weekday Adventures are about time together—quality and quantity. But it is also about formation. My daughters have learned the importance of expertise—of truly listening to a tour guide or a docent explaining the history of a particular place, the importance of a specific event, or the story behind a work of art. They have seen the capacity of human endeavor in staggering architecture and sublime paintings. They have walked in places where they know it is simply right to be quiet, and they have met people to whom it is essential to say thank you. They have found joy in sharing their experience, telling a fascinating anecdote, or dropping a fact-bomb on an unsuspecting listener. Their world has grown larger, not smaller, and has further reminded them that while they surely have an important role in that world, they are not necessarily the center of it. They have grown as sisters and I have grown as their father.
So, today it was the State Capitol.
And as we traipsed through pillared halls and craned our necks heavenward from the bottom of the rotunda, my daughters were stunned by the facts they learned. The chandelier illuminating the inner dome of the Capitol is six feet by six feet, hangs 223 feet above the floor, and weighs two thousand pounds. Its innumerable light bulbs are cleaned and replaced once a year. The golden horses (the quadriga) on the windswept Capitol roof are gilded with pounds of solid gold and was sculpted by Daniel Chester French, who would go on to sculpt Abraham Lincoln for the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. The dome itself is the second largest self-supporting dome in the world following Michelangelo’s dome at St. Peter’s Basilica and ahead of the Taj Mahal. Quotes painted from legal giants like Blackstone and Burke, Webster and Jefferson generated conversation. Ornate galleries for the House and Senate and august chambers for the Supreme Court once again taught us about the checks and balances necessary for democracy to restrain the appetites of man. The coolness of the marble and the echo of our footsteps reminded us that this was no common place. And all of us were content knowing that our next stop to Candyland would involve several bags of gummy bears, chocolate-covered pretzels, and a box of buttered popcorn.
When we returned home and flopped on the couch, we were pleasantly exhausted. It had been a very good day. But it got me to thinking of an extraordinary anecdote Bishop Barron tells about a child’s true capacity to apprehend complexity. His story applies especially well to our Weekday Adventures:
A few years ago, the daughter of one of my Word on Fire colleagues came to our office. Her mother said, “Tell Fr. Barron how much you know about Star Wars.” With that, an eight-year-old girl launched into a detailed account of the Star Wars narrative, involving subplots, extremely minor characters, thematic trajectories, and so on. As she was unfolding her tale, I thought of the many educators whom I have heard over the years assuring me that young people cannot possibly take in the complexities, convoluted plot twists, and strange names found in the Scriptures. I don’t know, but I don’t think Methuselah and Habakkuk are really any more puzzling than Obi-Wan Kenobi and Lando Calrissian.
He would go on,
This great, rollicking, complex, rich story that we have, full of weird names, yeah, but no weirder than Obi-Wan Kenobi, right? The kids have no trouble with that. Don’t tell me they can’t understand the Bible. And therefore don’t tell me that they can’t appreciate Jesus as the culmination of that great story.
One thing I have learned from my Weekday Adventures with my daughters is that our kids hunger for time with us . . . but I also crave time with them. They desire the truth of things. They want to be surprised and intrigued. Even though my daughters are twelve and ten years old, they desire wonder no less than when they were five and three. Heck, I still want to be enchanted at forty-five. As my wife would say, in spending time with our children, we are not babysitting them; we are parenting them. Even more, we are forming them. Our kids need us to talk about truth, to elaborate on goodness, to point to beauty. If we don’t do it, then who will? And yes, they need us to laugh and give piggyback rides and eat candy too.
In his poem, North Berwick, Chesterton speaks truth about playing (romping) with children:
And I say that if a man had climbed to the stars
And found the secrets of the angels,
The best thing and the most useful thing he could do
Would be to come back and romp with children.
And in The Idiot, Dostoevsky’s prince was right when he admitted, “Children soothe and heal the wounded heart.”
Our children are precious gifts from God.
Isn’t it time for a Weekday Adventure?