November 03, 2003

Scenes from Sunday; Or, Why I am Probably Going to Hell

It seemed like a good idea at the time, you know? A chance to help The Boy acclimate himself to the rhythms of Sundays, and a way for me to make sure that he got anti-bacterial gel on his hands whenever he played with the communal toddler toys, thus hopefully avoiding the Germs of the Godly. So I agreed to be one of five teachers for The Doves two-year-old Sunday School class.

The Doves' Sundays are fairly regimented: 15 minutes free play while parents drop off their darlings, a short walk down the hall to Assembly with the 3-year olds to sing songs and tell stories, 15 minutes on the playground, and 15 minutes of "lesson," which involves reading a Bible story while they color pictures or sit and listen, and then the parents come and pick them up. Simple and structured, right? Yes, and the road to hell is paved with well-intentioned Sunday School teachers like me.

First of all, we go to a fairly large church. There are forty-two toddlers on the roster, which translates into about twenty toddlers each Sunday. The ones who come regularly are now a breeze--they know what comes next and recognize the teachers. But that's only about 50% of any given class. The other 50% is made up of kids whose parents make it to Sunday School about once a month, just enough for their child to develop fear, dread and separation anxiety. So the first 15 minutes is spent frantically trying to distract them and get them calm enough to endure the sudden disruption of being frog-marched down the hall to a room full of older kids. Yay!

The second 15 minutes is spent simultaneously shushing, chasing, corralling and distracting these toddlers, while the lady in charge of assembly looks irritated at the fact that 2 year olds are acting like, well, 2 year olds. Then we head back to our classroom. After a head count which is inevitably followed by a visit to the 3 year old room to pick up a stray or two, it's out to the playground!

The playground which contains lovely heavy duty METAL equipment. There is running. There is screaming (not always from pain, so that's okay) and then there is the cry of "Ella's going over the wall!" Ella is one of the reasons that I'll be spending eternity in a very warm place. Ella's parents belong to the "we come to church just enough to traumatize our child" group, and they have the added bonus of extreme parental guilt. Ella, being a bright child, has discerned that if she "cries" long enough, her parents will give in. "Cries" appears in sneer quotes here because this little girl should get an academy award for her ability to switch on the waterworks. Ella's parent of the day will linger and fuss--and Ella will cling and whine--until a teacher essentially forces him or her out the door, at which point Ella will cry. And cry. And cry. But--and here's the good part--she'll only cry IF YOU'RE WATCHING HER. This leads to a bizarre game of "I can't see you," in which the teachers give vague instructions to the general vicinity of Ella, which she will then follow. But if you make the mistake of eye contact, histrionics ensue. It complicates matters that Ella likes to scale brick walls to get to the parking lot. There's really no way to pretend you don't see her when you're prying her off a wall or gate or tree. And when she's kicking and crying because you've managed to stop her from literally playing in traffic, it's probably not the Christian thing to do to envision letting her parents see her scaling the wall in the hopes that they'll never, EVER, bring her back...

And then there is Penn the runny-nosed bully. Penn comes every week. And every week Penn has a cold, or a cough, and a nose that will not. stop. running. Penn's mother, proving that hope springs eternal, dresses her darling boy in those Little Lord Fauntleroy pinafores and shorts. Penn's behavior, however, is more along the lines of the Marquis de Sade. Every fight over a toy involves Penn. Every scraped knee or bumped head on the playground involves Penn. And probably every cold, cough or fever that comes from that room involves Penn. In my more evil moments, I wonder what would happen if Penn and Ella had a cage match. And I know for a fact that my first impulse upon watching Penn grab a train from my boy--telling him, "Kick him in the nuts and take it back!"--is not in line with turning the other cheek. Impulse control is my friend.

But I endure, because watching other 30-something moms rolling their eyes at toddlers makes me feel much better. Plus, it's only an hour a week. I figure Ella's and Penn's parents deserve at least that much of a break...

Posted by Big Arm Woman at November 3, 2003 09:56 AM

I dunno. Dealing with a multitude of toddlers sounds like a ticket to sainthood if you ask me.

Isn't it amazing that Ella, at two, already knows how to manipulate those around her to get what she wants? What amazes me more is that the parents of this bright girl (ok, maybe not THIS one, but I know others just like her) don't seem to be smart enough to know that they're not in charge.

As for Penn, he sounds like one of those kids that everybody knows his name without ever having to be introduced. Whether in the grocery store, at the bank, or on an airplane, you learn his name by the litany of, "Now, Penn, stop that. Penn, don't do that. No-no Penn. Penn, please behave. Penn..." with no action taken to actually make him stop. (could this be called U.N. Parenting?)

Wow, I better stop and go check my blood pressure, 'cause this obviously hit a nerve. Anyway, thanks for the laugh.

Posted by: LittleA at November 3, 2003 12:43 PM

It doesn't get better as they get older. I made the mistake of volunteering myself and hubbie to team-teach 4th grade Sunday School when the Precious Dumpling girl was a member. Oy. I think I personally ran off most, if not all, the 4th grade boys 'cause I expected them to, well, just sort of pay attention A BIT to the lesson. After all, there were snacks afterwards.

Personally, I think people who can stand to take care of others' children really are saints, and your doing so more than makes up for the random National Geographic moment (the ones where the mama seals stomp on the other babies in order to get to their own. Heh.) thoughts. Cheers!

Posted by: Sheryl at November 3, 2003 04:09 PM