I spent the first two and half years of Pace’s life wondering if he even liked me. Actually, it was probably longer than that. The day the flutterings inside me turned into more pronounced kicks, jabs and what seemed like very intentional sucker punches, I started to wonder if this one had it out for me.

I cut my teeth on parenting with my firstborn. He taught me how to be a mom. But with my second born, I was taught how to be a better me. There were areas we were alike, but an unsettling number of things that were so “other” in him I found myself overwhelmed with not just the parenting of two kids, but the parenting of this kid.

He was supremely independent. Still is. When he gets hurt he’s more apt to run to a corner and cry alone, then run into either of his parents’ arms. He is a do-er before he is a thinker. Which explains why he didn’t realize jumping up and grabbing hold of a rising garage door before leaving to pick up his brother from school the other day was a bad idea. He is a laugher. Always. He doesn’t take himself too seriously. Ever. He is quick to get over a grudge. Quick to turn tears to giggles. And constantly looking for ways to lighten a mood—even if a mood doesn’t need lightening. But on the other hand his heart is as soft as they come. He cries in books and movies over characters who die, leave, or are separated from the ones they love—inconsolable crying—running off to be alone to do it.

And tomorrow, he turns five. A whole hand.

Going through the nightstand the other morning I came across as obvious a marker as any of how old five really is when I discovered the baby monitor, wrapped in its cord tucked in the back of the drawer behind a pair of glasses, book and lone throat lozenge. That baby cam used to be both my peace of mind and the bane of my existence. It was another appendage to me in nap-time and bedtime, the constant checking to see if he was sleeping and the maddening number of times I discovered he wasn’t. Even in the time he was supposed to be asleep he was teaching me about myself. About how tied I was to structure and routine and how free and unencumbered he was, marching to the beat of his own drum.

It was infuriating. His restlessness. His refusal to align himself with my plans and schedules. It drove me crazy. But he hardly seemed to notice.

Henri Nouwen, a Catholic priest, writer and theologian wrote, “As I grow older, I discover more and more that the greatest gift I have to offer is my own joy in living, my own inner peace, my own silence and solitude, my own sense of well-being.”

We picked the name Pace, because it means “peace”. In Latin. In Hebrew, it turns out, pace means “Passover” and “speedy.” Speedy is an apt description of our boy, his first word being “Go!”, his first sentence, “Go dada!” He’s always been on the move. For a long time I thought maybe when I picked the name I should have been more specific over which meaning I wanted him to encompass. I wasn’t looking for a speedy child. But a peaceful one. Turns out I may have missed the point on peace as well.

Peace, in Hebrew, is shalom. A word that doesn’t necessarily mean quiet, still or even an absence of conflict but, rather the presence of wholeness. It’s about resisting the fragmented parts of us, and seeing ourselves as total and complete.

When I read Nouwen’s quote I think of shalom. That the greatest gift we can offer the world around us is one where we are at peace with ourselves, having come to terms with who we are.

In this, Pace has been my greatest teacher. He is an exercise in joy. He is an example of peace—not of quiet, but settledness in who he is. And he is content. He knows himself, and for the people around him, this is such a gift.

I never expected to learn so much from my kids. I never thought they would educate me as thoroughly as they have. But I wonder how much I missed in what they were capable of offering because I was so intent on being the one instructing. I wonder what they are so insistently imparting to me if I would only soften my heart and change my posture toward them every now and again.

I wonder what our kids would teach us, if we only gave them a teachable spirit in ourselves.

Pace, for five years now, has been the best teacher of shalom I know—though I didn’t always see it that way. Has been the best gift giver in unabashed wholeness of himself. Of owning his easy laugh and equally easy tears. In communicating his hurts, but also his willingness to move on quickly. He has not been easy—for me. Because he has been so different from me. But his commitment to wholeness, to being who he was made to be, and his resistance to being made into something I wanted him to be, has done this family a great service and I believe, will ultimately do the same thing for the world.

He turns five this week. Five. And his being is a living theology—already. He is speedy in some things. And shalom in almost every thing. And my Pace, always. He still resists sleep, but I long ago abandoned the baby monitor and with it the frustration Pace simply being Pace created. I let him do his thing. I let him cry alone. And I keep my arms open and available should he change his mind and want to find a safe place with me and not by himself. I let him resist sleeping and play during naptime, and smile when I inevitably walk in on him having collapsed in an exhausted heap in the closet, under his bed or behind the door. I let him “go!” as fast as he can as much as he can, because that is who and how he was created to be. In fact, I let him do a lot because he’s Pace, because being Pace is his greatest asset…except hang from a rising garage door. I draw the line there.