Many people know the opening line from Charles Dickens’ dreadful classic — sorry, ninth-grade nightmares — “A Tale of Two Cities.” Even if they don’t know the source, they know “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Well, later in that eternally long sentence (the first of many), Dickens writes “we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going the other way.”
And so it was two nights this week in the Warden household; and, as he usually does, my classic middle child set the tone.
Indulge me for a minute while I tell you about Grant. Like all middle children, I assume, he fights up in weight class and he fights down — a scrawny but strong flyweight who is all angles and elbows. He is 8 years old, and he loves all animals both real and stuffed, which is fitting because his hair is thick like a brown pelt and his movements are quick and sharp and constant like a squirrel playing tag.
I’m not declaring anything publicly I haven’t divulged before: He is our rotten one, always scheming, often in trouble, rarely is anything his fault. Fact: Just yesterday he duct-taped his 5-year-old brother to a chair, bound his ankles and wrists together and covered his mouth with said duct-tape and ran into our bedroom screaming “Jacob got robbed!” And his most amazing gift is that he somehow — always — gets Jacob to be a willing participant.
Here is another fact I have no problem admitting, because I’m a truthful father of a rotten-but-sweet 8-year-old boy: Nobody in the world makes me angrier than he does, and, equally, nobody gives me as much joy.
Which leads me back to the other night. The sun had set, “Little House on the Prairie” had been watched (one episode, not two — sorry, kids), teeth had been brushed; our nightly checklist was nearing its completion. The lone item not crossed off: prayers. On Sunday nights, as a family, we pray the Rosary. Five of us, five decades, each one leads a decade — that’s called symmetry.
Grant stumbled through the opening decade led by the 5-year-old. (That’s a topic for another blog, but spoiler alert: it’s pretty cute). Anyway, after lovingly being instructed it was his decade to lead, Grant starts crying. He’s tired, he says. But like the fighter he is, he doesn’t go down easy. Oh, no. After more prodding, he proceeds to zip through his first Hail Mary like he’s reading the fine print from a credit card commercial.
Let me pause one minute to explain something. There are a few things in the Warden household you do not do. There are rules. Rule 1: Always know where the dog is when you open a door to the outside; he’s a runner. Rule 2 pertains to things in our house that are not toys: Tupperware, the dog’s leash, my belts, our bed, remote controls, Sharpies and scissors. Rule 3: You do not mess around during prayer time, especially when it involves Mary.
Anyway, less lovingly than before, we invite him to start over and slow down. He declines our invitation, but accepts the one where we tell him to stomp his way to bed. TV, iPad and computer are banned the next day. The rest of the family shakes off the distraction to finish the Rosary.
The next night — after the sun sets, “Little House” is watched and teeth are brushed, naturally — we begin to pray again. Olivia, the 11-year-old, reads from our daily Lenten devotional. While she’s reading about the Last Supper and Jesus giving up his body and blood for the forgiveness of sins, Grant’s bony arm shoots into the air like a spring, polite as can be. “I know the word for that,” he says proudly. “It’s transubstantiation.”
At that point, heaven opens up and light floods the room; the choir of angels sings and there is rejoicing throughout the living room. My wife and I look at each other in stunned silence. Grant smiles and nods, his halo battered a little, but still shiny.
As we basked in the glow of our now-pious son, he later asks if there is a Saint Grant. There is not, I say. And he replies, “I’m going to become the first.”
The best of times, indeed.
Scott Warden is the associate editor of OSV Newsweekly.