He walks out from behind the tall stacks in the children's library, holding each book like an offering. His brown eyes turn up to meet mine, searching for a verdict.
"Can we get this one?" he asks.
Somehow, despite being unable to read, he finds them tucked in among hundreds or thousands of books, the ones filled with dragons and swords, monsters and pirates. He pulls them randomly from the shelves, chapter books two or three inches thick and I receive each request with dread.
As resident bibliophile, I'm also the literary gatekeeper at our house and somehow the job seems so much more difficult, so much more complicated when it comes to my five-year-old son. He wants to read about adventure and conflict and I am worried about violence and magic and things beyond his understanding. I don't want to shame his natural curiosity, but I want to be careful too.
He holds up a thick burgundy book with a heavily embossed cover. A fire-breathing dragon flies menacingly over a mountainous village. The title, "Dragonology: The Complete Book of Dragons" is scrolled in medieval script beneath the dragon's wings. There are gem stones embedded in the cover and each page is filled with elaborate illustrations of maps, dragon lore, and even a detailed dragon "life cycle." The well-made pages look aged and weathered and there are pull-out booklets filled with secret writing and spells.
I look at the book and I look at my son.
I see his longing and curiosity, he will absorb this book like a sponge.
"Yes," I say, "we can get it."
He responds immediately, roping his sister into reading aloud right there in the library.
During the two week borrowing window, he pours over the pictures and we print page after page of dragon coloring pages from the internet for him to color. He practices drawing dragons of every shape and size. My husband and I discuss the book and the difficulty of choosing boys' toys and books that are interesting but wholesome. We consider the fact that we both loved "The Hobbit," which centers around a quest to slay a dragon and wonder whether it's too early to introduce the "Chronicles of Narnia."
Mostly I wonder if I should have said no, if other parents, more Christian ones perhaps, would've said no. I think about the fact that my yes came from a desire to bless, not the dragons and spells, but the curiosity and hunger for adventure the dwells so naturally within each of my boys.
Then, one Sunday at church, the older kids sit drawing while the adults sing and I look down to see my son drawing the outlines of dragons on his plain white paper. I wonder what the people around us will think; I wonder what I would think if it was someone else's son.
Pushing my worries aside I sing and pray. Looking down I catch him watching the man to my right who's singing with gusto. His open face absorbs the man's singing in the same way he absorbed the dragon book, then he bows his head again to his drawing.
When the singing stops I sit and he eagerly pushes his paper toward me.
There are two dragons, one on each side of the page. They stand with their heads raised to the sky, toothy mouths gaping as fire pours out and up. One boasts a pair of jagged wings and both are covered in scales, surrounded by piles of jewels.
"Are they dragons," I ask, "and are these their gems?"
"Yes," he says with pride, "They're singing their songs to God and giving him their gems."
* * *
We watch and wait and worry our way through parenting, like poorly trained refs working a Championship Game. Convinced that every call we make matters in some way, we wait and wonder how it will all add up.
In her book, The Cloister Walk, Kathleen Norris, a poet, describes the book of Revelation as "A Story With Dragons in It" and says the following,
"Dragons within, dragons without. Evil so pervasive that only the poetry of apocalypse can imagine its defeat. And to do that it takes us to the limits of metaphor, of human sense, the limits of imagining and understanding. It pushes us against all our boundaries and suggests that the end of our control--our ideologies our plans, our competence, our expertise, our professionalism, our power--is the beginning of God's reign. It asks us to believe that only the good remains, at the end, and directs us toward carefully tending it here and now. We will sing a new song. Singing and praise will be all that remains. As a poet, that's a vision, and I promise, I can live with." (emphasis mine)
In Norris' words, apocalypse sounds a lot like parenting to me - a challenge so extreme that it pushes us beyond all knowing to a place of trust. Trusting and tending, we nurture the good and bless it and in so doing, we write the song across our hearts, across our lives that we will all one day sing.
And, who knows, maybe the dragons will be singing too.
This post is linked with Jennifer Dukes Lee and Imperfect Prose.