It was a daddy-date, just the two of us. Ian and I sat at U.S. Pizza Company, the home of the non-artisanal, non-organic, thin and crispy crust pizza. This is not your upper-crust fare; instead, it is the stuff reminiscent of the late-night college cramming sessions (of both chemistry formulas and junk food). Pizza is among Ian’s favorite foods, which should come as no surprise. I don’t suppose I know a single seven year old who does not hang the hope of the world on cheese pizza and chocolate donuts. Couple either with chocolate milk from a square carton and you have a meal worthy of grade-school Valhalla.
A trim waitress with bright eyes and blond hair brought the pizza to the table. She bent down to Ian’s eye-level, and with a smile said, “will this work, buddy?” He stared only at the steaming cheese, oblivious to her striking beauty, and with eyes big as pizza pans gave an elongated, dramatic “yeeeeeesssss….”
We sat in the joint and talked about school. I asked him whether he was enjoying it, and he said mostly. “Some of the kids are starting to cuss,” he said. “They’re trying to make me do it, too.” I asked him whether he had joined their attempts at grown up language. He stopped eating, gave me the furrowed brow of surprise and said, “are you crazy?!? Those words are bad!”
That was that. I am raising a rule-boy.
Half a cheese pizza and three cups of Sprite later, we sat talking, when I overheard one of the waitresses saying, “the parade is starting!” She was standing by the large windows in the front of the restaurant, and looking out toward Dickson Street, where I could see candy and beads flying through the air. Ian was letting his food digest, so I asked him if he’d like to take a peek at the parade. “There’ll be candy and beads,” I said. Innocent as a lamb, he said, “candy? Sure. Let’s go.”
Outside, the folks of Fayetteville lined the street, stretched their arms upward and said “beads here! Beads here!” The parade processional was just making its way down the street, and a Little Guys Mover’s truck was at the head. It was adorned with shiny, plastic beads on the passenger side mirror, and a woman from inside was tossing candy and stringed necklaces to the crowd. She threw me two tangled strands and I offered them to Ian. He recoiled. “Necklaces are for girls,” he said. I put them over my head.
As the parade rolled on, a float came with a sign denoting it was the “Love Shack.” A structure had been constructed on the back of a trailer, and women danced under it while throwing goodies to the crowd. A public address system blared, “the love shack is a little old place where we can get together.”
Ian looked at me, confused by the bawdy dancing women and asked, “what is that daddy?”
“I’ll tell you when you’re older, son.”
Float after float came down the street, and we watched them pass. This was the family-friendly Mardi Gras parade our town holds every year. It’s a small parade, boasting no more than fifteen floats, and the candy and beads flow like milk and honey. A gang of roller-derby girls skated behind a float of purple-headed fairies in matching tutus. A vintage Ford truck cruised, blaring Willy Nelson. A trailer hauled a local band that played an old Doobie Brother’s tune.
Beads, beads, and more beads, the floats were generous with the crowd. Finally, Ian asked, “what’s all this about?” “Tuesday,” I said, “is Fat Tuesday, or Mardi Gras. It’s the last day before Lent, the day that we feast on whatever it is we will fast from so that we can draw closer to God.”
“What’s Lent,” he yelled over the band.
“It’s the season where we remember our need for repentance; it’s the season just before Easter!”
Ian stopped and looked at me. “So this parade--they’re having a big party because they’ll have to give up parties soon?”
“Something like that.”
“Daddy?” He paused. “Are they throwing a party for sin?”
I stood on the side of Dickson and held the tenderness of his question. Sometimes, I think having childlike faith means asking the most uncomfortable questions.
In this month's Tiny Letter (my once-a-month, insider newsletter delivered straight to your email), I'll be discussing the Lenten season, the darkness of my heart, and the discipline of quiet reflection. Look for the newest edition later this week (the week of February 15). And if you sign up today, you'll receive a FREE DOWNLOAD of the song "Train Wreck." It's a song I wrote about pain, loss, and the love of God.