We live in a world gone mad—anyone’ll tell you. Natural disasters are increasingly disastrous, and people keep shooting each other just because. “Disaster fatigue” is an actual thing. The world is having a nutsy and this fact drives me, more than ever, to focus in on the ones I love most.
Hold them dear, I think to myself. Keep them safe.
It’s natural, right? I can’t control hurricanes or someone else’s crazy, but I can still do microlocal: Be good to each other. Use your words.
Plus, it’s not as if those close-to-home values are a cinch. When Middlest was two, for example, his dad and I had to work to stop him grabbing the neighbor kid by the face. “Use your words, sweetie!” we exhorted, praying the tiny crescents on Clayton’s cheeks would fade quickly.
Keep them healthy. Teach them not to hurt people. That is my whole, whole job.
And then this POPE comes along, and blows my little parenting plan all to hell.
I have been mentioning in other spaces (to the point that my Facebook friends would be reasonable to block me) how much I freaking love Pope Francis. (I know, he’s supertrendy now! But I loved him FIRST. Also, hardest.)
“You aren’t even Catholic,” my pals point out. “Why are you so obsessed with this guy?”
“I think the real question,” I tell them. “is Why aren't YOU?”
So deep and so pure is my crush on Pope Francis that today I nominate him—the Popest with the Mostest, Pope Frantastic—as our kids’ next top role model.
Ahh, role models. They’re important, inevitable, and—from MLK to Miley Cyrus—imperfect. Even Katniss Everdeen can be kind of a sullen little brat, amirite? Michael Jackson had his issues, but when he got up on a stage and moonwalked, the whole world started practicing that crazy backwards thing. Since flawlessness is not a requirement, I’m okay that Pope Francis isn’t.
And he’s already nailed several critical hallmarks of your modern-day role model: Weird clothes! Rabid fans! EIGHT MILLION TWITTER FOLLOWERS!
But when it comes to role modelization, hijinx are where the rubber meets the road. Let’s review this guy’s—and feel free, in the spirit of my mission, to mention any of these nuggets to your children:
Pre-pope: Did you know that, back when he was a lowly not-Pope, Bishop Frantastic used to sneak out at night to sit and eat with the homeless, to show them someone cared?
March: Francis gets Poped. Then he pays his own hotel bill, eschews the papal limousine to ride the bus with his homies, and chooses to live in basically a broom closet rather than the papal palacery.
October: A little kid wanders onto the Pope-stage, and instead of getting a net thrown over him, Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang-style—well, we’ve all seen that adorable scene.
November: In the middle of some Popely Pomp, Francis pulls from the crowd and embraces a man whose condition so terrifies most people that he has been kicked off buses and ostracized his whole life. The man later tells CNN, “I’m not contagious, but he didn’t know that. He didn’t even think about whether or not to hug me.”
We have a made-to-order role model, right in front of us. Let’s grab him! This guy is RICH. This guy is POWERFUL. This guy is. . .choosing simplicity, when opulence would be the traditional choice? Reaching out to the least among us?
Pope Frabulous has been reminding me to look outward again. I was better at that, Before Kids. I volunteered and gave money, and I wasn’t so worried about myself all the time. But parenting happened, and my world’s boundaries moved inward. For a time, this was appropriate; loving the world surely begins with our closest interactions.
But by the time Middlest was eight? Ten? Shouldn’t I have been setting my sights for him a little higher than not grabbing people by the face?
Honey, I am reminded, watching this Pope. The world is bigger than our house. It is that family who has less, those people who are in crisis, that guy who looks different, that annoying neighbor kid.
I tried. We traveled and we learned, but still, it is so easy to forget. Soccer. Dinner. Homework. Repeat.
But this pope. THIS POPE.
Let’s pay attention to this guy, is all I'm saying. Let’s bring him up at the dinner table, follow him on Twitter. (My remaining Facebook friends? That’s not for you. You know I’ll keep you Papally informed. You can stand down, Twitterwise.) (Although, I do need to tell you that I did just snag @PopeFrantastic, and I aim to use it.)
I’m not sure what to expect as I start paying as much attention to Pope Francis as I do to Jennifer Lawrence. Will I seek mercy, more? Will I love justice, better? In doing so, will my children?
I don’t know. I do know that, in a world gone mad, taking care of our own is the place to start—but it’s not the place to stop. The way to reverse the madness is to reach out, to love each other better. My new role model and future BFF is awesome at this.
So, Pope? I’m watching you. And until they defriend me, for real or for internet, my kids and my friends are probably going be forced to watch, too. You’re gonna get stuff wrong and you’re gonna be imperfect and sometimes I’m gonna disagree. Nevertheless:
“Kids! Look!” I’m gonna say, when Pope Francis comes out with stuff like, “Let us never forget that authentic power is service.”
How kooky would it be, if a bunch of us started emulating this guy’s crazy, backwards walk?
You can read more about Margot's journey in her book Paradise Imperfect.