“…Julianus Pomerius (speaks) of hospitality as unbending one’s self…The irony is that the unbending requires inviting my neighbors into the very places where I am most bent.”  ~Lauren F. Winner, Mudhouse Sabbath

 Nearly everything I know about offering hospitality to my children, I learned from my parents. My mother made dinner and washed the dishes and, after that, while we sat in the living room of the farmhouse watching the old three-channel television, she sewed bindings around the edges of quilts. Her fingers moved precisely. I can still envision her holding the end of the thread in her mouth. I can still see the rhythmic motion of her hands, like a fly-fisherman waving his rod back and forth, back and forth.

She worked on quilts at night so that she would have money for our back-to-school clothes, and at the end of every summer we spilled into the local shopping mall where her hard-earned money magically transformed into parachute pants and Reebok pumps, Trapper Keepers and aluminum lunch boxes.

My father’s form of hospitality was of a different sort. When I was four years old and we lived in a lizard-infested trailer in Laredo, Texas, he got down on his knees and played football with me. We had different plays, all with their corresponding number. One was go long, all the way down the hall; Two was a short pass in the kitchen; Three was break left towards the oven; Four was break right between the dining room table and the wall.

When I was older, and we had moved back up north, we went out into the candy-green grass and threw baseball, the red seams spinning like a planet’s rings. The ball made a loud smack in the leather pocket of my glove. For many years it was how we spoke, my dad and I, not with words but with pitches and catches and the occasional compliment.

“Nice catch.”

“Nice pitch.”

It was exactly the kind of conversation I longed for, those dusk sessions of catch and throw, of spinning red seams and the predictable sound of a hard baseball caught just right.

* * * * *

It was a difficult road, finding it in me to provide that same hospitality to my own children. I am bent in many different places, and for some reason the unbending was hard. Don’t get me wrong – I wanted to have children. I loved having them around. But I still wanted to preserve my own life, exactly as it was.

But I’m unbending. Slowly. Surely. I’m learning to tell my children, “I’m sorry.” I’m learning to say, “Yes.” I’m learning to let them fail and succeed for themselves.

* * * * *

I spend time in my daughters’ rooms each evening, as often as I can. Lucy wants to talk about what she’s reading, the music she’s listening to, and I can see the young woman she’s becoming. It’s frightening – terrifying, actually – because the growing up of a daughter is something entirely beyond anyone’s control. It’s like trying to hold dry sand – no matter how I turn my hands, something is always escaping, something is always falling away. But when I catch those glimpses of who she will become, it’s also exhilarating. What better time of life is there than those years of childhood when everything is beginning to gel, when anything is possible?

Abra, still only seven, wants nothing more than for me to sit beside her bed until she falls asleep, wants nothing more than to know I am watching out for her. Through her window I see the northern section of our city, and I wait for her to drift off.

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On long afternoons, my boys and I, we go into the back alley behind our house on James Street and throw baseball in the shadow of an old warehouse-turned-apartment building. When cars come through the alley, we step aside and watch them pass. I nod. My sons give small, uncertain waves. When one of us misses the ball, we race towards Prince and wait for the traffic to stop before scurrying between the cars and retrieving it. 

The ball thuds into our leather gloves and it sounds exactly like it did thirty years ago, when my dad and I played catch on the candy-green grass. It remains a conversation of sorts, and the red seams still spin like the rings of a planet.


This post is part of our new series, Love Them Well, featuring stories about showing hospitality towards children.

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Shawn Smucker / Posts / Blog
Shawn Smucker is the author of numerous non-fiction books including Building a Life Out of Words, the story of his transition into full-time writing. His first novel, The Day the Angels Fell, has been described as “Madeliene L’Engle meets Neil Gaiman.” He lives with his wife and five children in the city of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. You can find him online at shawnsmucker.com.
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    Lynn D. Morrissey

    That’s really lovely, Shawn, and it reminds me of how Jesus said, “Let the little children come unto me.” And then He *bent* down and blessed them. I think as you gradually unbend, you are most like the One nailed and bent on a Cross for you. Your interactions with your children are lovely, an echo of your own parents’ hospitality towards you, and Jesus’ towards you as well. I’m so glad you are making time (even if perhaps it doesn’t feel natural). Time fleets, and so does childhood. Ask me. Our daughter, who was a baby yesterday, is twenty-three today. Hold them close, Shawn. You are a new-to-me author, and I love what I’ve read of your work now. I was introduced to your writing when you brazenly left FB! 🙂 How’s that working? I’ve just started using it and have to think this through. It’s time-and-life consuming (yet I do experience traces of hospitality through it–such a dilemma!). Keep those red seams spinning….as we are here in St. Louis, cheering the Cardinals on to red-seam victory! Ha! )
    Lynn Morrissey

    October 2nd, 2015 9:57
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      Great hearing from you again, Lynn, and thanks for your encouragement. After six weeks away from Facebook I returned with a new perspective. Too much to tell in this comment thread, but you can check it out over at my blog if you have time.

      Looking forward to learning more about you and your own journey.

      October 2nd, 2015 11:32
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    Mudhouse Sabbath was one of my favorite reads from a couple years ago (incidentally, my library has been unable to get anything else of Ms. Winner’s).
    Thanks for the nudge to remember to show hospitality to my own brood – in ways that speak to their hearts and convey to them that they are worth my time and attention.

    October 2nd, 2015 10:20
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      I hadn’t considered the word hospitality in regards to my own kids until Kris gave me the challenge of writing this piece. I offer (or try to offer) so many other people hospitality: my neighbors, my friends, my extended family. But for some reason I haven’t thought about my kids in that way. It’s been a challenging exercise.

      October 2nd, 2015 11:33
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    Leah Adams

    Having never want to have, or have had, children of my own, it has been a huge bend for me to open my life and heart up to those ‘children’ whom God has led across my path. It was a bend that needed to happen, but a stretching and growing one, nonetheless. It is good. Enjoyed this post very much.

    October 2nd, 2015 15:49
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    This hospitality to my kids gets so much harder for me when they are older. I was an amazing parent to an under-2-year-old, but once my boys required real activity and interactive play, i couldn’t handle the effort involved. I needed this reminder that it is hard but still worthwhile.

    October 5th, 2015 15:40

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