For over a year, our oldest son switched “I” and “you” whenever he spoke. So he sounded like an overly compassionate child, always concerned with what “you” wanted and what “you” needed, constantly volunteering that “I” should help the crying baby and “I” should clean up the mess. His malaprop-kid-ism was cute at the beginning. But after months and months of ignoring our corrections, his habit got grating for those closest to him who were constantly being asked whether they wanted a diaper change.
With help from his teacher and sitter, we recently redoubled our efforts to help him learn. And over the last month, he’s started to switch, slowly. Now we hear a hybrid of “I” and “you,” but trending towards full claiming of self-hood when he speaks. Today when we pose a question, he responds carefully and proudly – “I do!” – the words still new, fresh and powerful in his mouth.
. . .
Last week we were talking after Mass about baptism, about the babies who had been dunked in water and blessed with oil and dressed in white. My boy pondered this thoughtfully, remembering what he had seen when he gathered around the fount with the other children. Then he posed me a question:
“Do you say ‘I do’ at church?”
I paused, surprised. I’d forgotten to talk about the “I-dos,” the vows we all renewed before the babies were baptized. But he remembered.
I started to correct his I/you confusion for the zillionth time, but then I stopped. In fact, we had both said “I do” at the morning’s baptism. And I have spoken these words at church many more times than he has. When the priest asked my husband and me if we were ready to give ourselves to each other in marriage. When our pastor asked if we knew what we were doing when we brought each of our boys to be baptized. We speak these words often at church, whenever we renew baptismal vows or attend a wedding: I do. I do.
. . .
Lately I listen to my son sing-song his new words around the house, talking himself while he plays or responding when I ask him questions. He is learning to claim and assert himself, to stand as a separate and independent entity, one who understands who he is and what he wants. And by recognizing who he is, he better understands who others are as well. The lines become less blurry each time he states clearly, “I do.”
Baptism sounds like this to my ears: I do, I do, I do. It is the sacrament of self-hood, the claiming and christ-ing of each child of God, the initiation into a family and a life of faith. This morning when I watched two more babies plunged into waters of new life, one silent and wondering, one shrieking and wailing, I thought about the sounds of baptism.
Sometimes baptism sounds like a splash, a squeal, a seal. The pour of water, rub of oil, spark of candle. But over time baptism sounds like the long learning of “I do,” growing into identity and understanding, claiming for ourselves what the church and God believe we can become.
It’s a big step, learning to say “I do.” I’m still trying to figure out how to do it every day. But I’m proud of my boy for his awakening, and grateful for journeying on his gradual realization of what it means to be “I” and what it means to “do.”
It takes all of us a long time – maybe a lifetime – to get there.