We had another birthday here, with a little boy turning four, and this is apparently a watershed moment – he tells us that he must now officially be called a ‘cool’ boy. We are not allowed to say that he’s ‘cute’ anymore because only babies and little kids are cute.
It’s hard to remember this new rule because he is so very cute. He seems younger than any of our three older children were at their fourth birthdays. We’re in no hurry for him to grow up, but he is growing fast nevertheless.
Last weekend the three older ones each separately went off on his or her own and made something for the birthday boy – a picture, a ring, a card – without having to be asked. They knew that they should each give something to their brother, and not just rely on mum and dad to organise his presents.
This is how world peace starts, at home, with freely-offered homemade cards on a little boy’s birthday, and mum and dad laughing in the kitchen getting dinner ready for the kids.
Mother Teresa (St Teresa of Calcutta now) said that both war and peace begin at home. “If we truly want peace in the world, let us begin by loving one another in our own families. If we want to spread joy, we need for every family to have joy.”
We really believe this, that there is both a personal and a public element to our marriage and that through it we are doing our bit to improve this hard-bitten world we live in, except that we weren’t exactly a picture of domestic bliss in the kitchen this particular dinner time.
The children had made pizzas and Peter and I argued over when it was time to take them out of the oven (even though I had already asked him to take charge of them).
I wanted them out now; he said they still needed a couple of minutes. I fumed, because when I looked down to peer into the oven I glimpsed hard lumps of unmelted cheese.
I felt as though I’d been in the kitchen for hours, I wanted dinner done already! I may have huffed and puffed. The children looked on from their places at the table.
“What am I going to do with you?” Peter asked.
“You could get a divorce,” someone piped up.
“Shh, don’t say that,” said another in a low voice.
“Why not? It’s not a swear word.”
“What’s a divorce?” a third one asked.
Ah, the joy of older children! A whole new world is opening up for us. The older ones are beginning not only observe but to think about things, trying to make sense of what they see around them.
They intuitively understand what Mother Teresa told the world, that war and peace begin at home, but they don’t yet understand that peace is a gift from God and sometimes no amount of human effort of itself can bring about peace in families or nations.
In our family’s case we do what we can with the resources and temperaments we have, and we stay as close to Jesus as possible. We have to make the choice every day to choose to sow peace, to spread joy. We take some responsibility for our brother’s happiness, responsibility for our own emotions and our own reactions, try to let go of the need to control everything, to be grateful, to be humble.
And, most pertinently, to wait until that mozzarella is properly melted and let everyone enjoy their dinner without rushing through to bath and bed time in the most efficient way possible.
I removed myself from the kitchen (which is what I should have done in the first place) and waited with everyone else. Dinner was great. We ended up with a decade of the rosary in the rumpus room, our Sunday night ritual, and watching the children run around trying either to kiss or cheekily evade a goodnight kiss from their siblings.
We were happy. Peace reigns.
This column was published in last week’s Catholic Weekly.
Photo by Siddharth Kothari.