For the last few years, our church has started a new tradition, which we call Milestones.
In the Mennonite faith, we don’t practice infant baptism. Instead, at an age of accountability, ideally when the individual feels capable of making a decision about their own beliefs, baptism is chosen. Of course, all good ideas can get diluted, and lots of congregations line up the kids at age 14 and splash some water on their heads. At best, we really are given the chance to make our own decisions about this step. I actually dropped out of baptism class twice. Yes, me, born and raised Mennonite, two time baptism class dropout. I was 26, married, mortgaged, and mother of two when I got baptized. And I really meant it.
Our church is so inclusive and welcoming. We’ve put a real emphasis on making the whole thing meaningful for the kids, rather than just the boring place we have to go to every week kind of deal. This is why our first Milestone is at age 12. This is the age when a kid really starts showing flashes of independence. It’s a threshold to a very new life.
(It's also the age when a kid named Jesus sort of accidentally on purpose stayed at the temple after Passover to hang with the smart guys, while his family were on their way home.)
Yesterday afternoon we gathered with a few other families for pizza and prayers and playing in the cement. Yup, to celebrate this milestone, we made stepping stones! They’ll be placed in the garden beside the church entrance.
I love the symbolism of stepping stones to mark significant ages. Especially now with the struggles I go through, I’m constantly reminded that life is made up of all these steps. You can’t skip any of them. I guess you can, but you’ll miss out on parts of the journey. It’s hard to backtrack. These days, I’m taking very small steps. It’s all I can handle. I just take my small steps, one a day if that’s all I can do, and just recognize that the smallest step is still movement. Meanwhile, my children stretch out and take giant leaps in their fast moving paths.
Two years ago, our daughter got to set her stone beside a plant in the church garden.
Two years ago, I was terrified.
To understand why, I’d have to explain a little about the kid who dropped out of baptism class twice.
Twelve was a difficult age for me. I do think I was a rather complex child underneath all the pony dirt and grass stains and long braids in my hair, but it really all imploded at twelve. This is the time that the dark brain problems showed up. I started thinking about death all the time. I wrote long tragic poems about wanting to die, or cry, or just being so confused that I couldn’t even understand my own sadness.
I’d get my jammies on at bedtime, wander over to Mom and Dad’s room, and flop out at the foot of their bed. “Something’s bothering me,” I’d say, staring up at the angled ceiling.
“I don’t know.”
I honestly did not know what my problem was.
Around this time, the health problems started too. Back aches, trips to the chiropractor for my obviously crooked spine, headaches, severe bellyaches... it all got rolling. And through it all, I became increasingly morose.
My parents damn well knew that even if I wasn’t the most average kid, it was not normal for a twelve year old girl to be talking about dying all the time.
Imagine my tension when my own daughter hit twelve.
I prayed. I prayed even more than I’d prayed before her birth to have a healthy baby with Daddy’s long black eyelashes. That wish was answered... and so was my new prayer. She survived what had been my own black year with her characteristic bounce.
Well, that left me faced with thirteen, which for me had a whole other set of difficulties. As of tomorrow, she leaves thirteen behind. She’s lovely. Sure, she has an emotional hair-trigger, which is perfectly natural for so many reasons, but she’s so generally level headed and sweet and funny and I am sooo thankful.
My boy decorated his stepping stone with a CD, a tiny light bulb with yellow stained glass points around it, and his name pressed into the cement.
He’s turning twelve in the summer. He’s intense. He plays hard, eats hard, and sleeps hard. He’s quick to anger but ready with a hug when I need it. Sometimes I wonder if he’s the one who’ll develop an anxiety problem, and I pray for him to learn some balance and patience... especially with those of us who aren’t as smart as he is.
I’ll always find something to pray about with these two.
One of the best messages I’ve gotten about my children is that they are not me. They look like me, sometimes they act like me, but they’re not me. They are their own unique people. I love them for who they are.
They’re still walking beside me in this trip through life, and the longer their legs get, the bigger their steps are. I hope I never lose sight of them.