When you welcome a new baby into the world, there are two schools of thought when it comes to the handling of said baby. The first school requires that you immediately seal the baby in a bubble, prevent anyone who does not rank amongst your five most trusted friends/family from coming near the bubble, and top it all off by locking yourselves in your house for the better part of a year to make sure that there are no unwanted invaders into the safe space of the bubble. The second school insists that you start handing your baby off almost as soon as he/she exits the womb and worry not about diseases, kidnappings, exposure to bad habits, etc.
You may have guessed that Lindsey and I are followers of the second school of thought. Almost from the very beginning, we handed Cooper off to just about anyone who didn't have open sores or a creeper mustache and have had absolutely no problem leaving him with family for extended periods of time when the situation calls for it. There are any number of reasons why this line of thinking is our preferred method but two big reasons really stand out. One, having a baby is HARD WORK. One minute life is free and easy and all of your responsibilities concern pretty much only you and the next minute there's this tiny, helpless, possibly vampiric thing in your arms and you've got to take care of him ALL OF THE TIME. If you have opportunities to take a break from that, you should take them. We had been out of the hospital for a week the first time we left Cooper with his grandmother to hit up to a friend's birthday party and I feel absolutely no guilt about that. Two, it is good, nay, IMPORTANT, for kids, even babies, to be comfortable with (responsible, non-Stranger Danger-y) people who aren't their parents. You know that old saying, "It takes a village"? (Somewhere Ron Burgandy is scratching his head in confusion.) Well, that stuff's for real. We want our son to be not only content in the presence of other adults (and kids too for that matter) but to learn how to flourish under the guidance of those around him. And, in my opinion, that should start early.
I'm reminded of this today because this is back to school week for just about everyone. Some started earlier, of course, but basically if you're not in school by the end of this week, you probably need to look into whether or not your school actually exists. Our little family is surrounded by the concept of "school" on almost every level. Many of my closer friends are school teachers, both Lindsey and I work with elementary age kids in our real world jobs, and through our church we have become involved in the lives of a group of high school kids as well.
As such, Back to School Week has an impact on our lives despite the fact that (blessedly) none of us actually have to go back to school. We share in the lamenting of the loss of freedom with our teacher friends, try to get our younger kids pumped up with phony "school is awesome!" excitement, and celebrate the passing of various milestones with the older kids. With school starting today, I have a number of kids who are crossing the threshold into new territory.
There's my buddy Luke, the first kid I met when I started my job here at The Hills , who will be participating in his first padded football practices this week while entering into 7th grade:
There's Dennis, my junior assistant for all things related to my job, who is headed into high school:
And then there's Brittany, whom I have deemed our "Community Child" because A.) her parent's house has become hang out central for approximately 900 people and B.) all of the adults in our group have banded together to try to help turn her into a well-rounded human. (Example: one of our friends taught her to drive after she refused to get her license at a normal age.) Brittany is heading off to college and will be sitting through her first set of college lectures this week:
Of course, there are more examples than just these three. I took my first full-time job working with kids 11 years ago and by my estimation, I have worked or volunteered with approximately 6,000 kids in that time. I've got kids heading to middle school, kids starting kindergarten, kids entering their vaunted senior year, and my first group of kids would have graduated college this spring (kill me). Some I remember well, some I don't, but I had the opportunity with every one of them to impact their lives in some way or another and hopefully more times than not, they took something positive away from our interactions.
And that's what we want for Cooper. In youth/children's ministry, we often think of the kids who come from a rough background or a broken home as the ones who "really need" some positive influences. And that's not wrong, of course, but it misses the point. That being: EVERY kid "really needs" some positive influences. Of those 6,000 kids that have come through my programs at one time or another, I would wager at least 4,500 of them came from stable, two parent households that provided them with a healthy amount of love and encouragement. But that's not enough. They need guidance, attention, and patience from other adults, other influences, and they need to learn how to accept that guidance, attention, and patience from said positive influences at their disposal.
We often act like this need starts when our kids enter high school or maybe middle school but I've long held that it actually needs to start at a much younger age. And now that Cooper is around, I can already see how important it is to his development to not only become comfortable with other kids his age but with their parents, our friends, his extended family, and any other quality, responsible influence that might come into his life. Even at four months old. Because, guess what, it really DOES take a village to keep these kids from becoming cat killers or deviants or layabouts or Aggies and in my book, the earlier they become exposed to these positive influences, the better.
Summer shouldn't end until after Labor Day, Brian