This morning I brought my kids to church with me.
Somehow I have always found getting my children to church very difficult and tiring. I’m not exactly sure why, since we don’t have to leave as early as we do for school, and there is no need for lunches or anything–but it’s possible that it’s because I am also supposed to make myself look extra nice amid all of the breakfast milk-spilling and cereal pouring. Don’t get me wrong–I know why being AT church is tiring. I’m just not sure why getting there is hard, too.
I tend to feel like we’re a bit…noticeable at church. I sit in the front so that the kids can see what is happening and so that I will pay attention. I will admit that if I sit in back, I devote more time to making grocery lists and fixing skewed pew envelopes than I do to listening.* I tell myself that it’s OK to sit in front, even though we are completely distracting, because…I don’t know, I kind of forget why I think it’s a good idea after today, which really was a pretty average to good church day.
In case you are not Howard, Chris, or Dave, and thus do not sit behind us most weeks,** I’ll run you through a little time in the Garwood-Meehan pew.***
Noah, 2, is young enough to be in Paul and Mary’s (the nursery) through the whole service, but he prefers to come in with us. Though this adds to the fatigue, I’m glad. Though it also adds to the chaos. He spent the morning carrying a diaper around with him because I didn’t want to bring a diaper bag. Since my other son regularly shows up with no shoes on, I figured this would just add to the “atmosphere” we tend to be surrounded with.
When we entered the pew, Asher, nearly 5, managed to hurt himself and screeched a bit. Thankfully it was surprisingly early, so other people were still making noise. He and Selah, 8, like to go to the back to get crayons and coloring pages, but this time he didn’t go because he was busy making awful noises on the floor of the pew.
Selah returned with three bags–she took a long time, because she had clearly been working to find matching bags and choosing age-appropriate coloring pages. Throwing his coloring page aside, Noah selected a blue crayon and an empty page in the Bible and then started scribbling. He’d managed to color a spot about the size of a quarter before I realized what he was doing. Asher noticed that his Lego creation had broken on the way into church and screeched. I reminded him that we were supposed to go to Jackson’s party after church, and we would not go if he worked his way through the three chances I was granting him.
Church started. Noticing this, Asher started screaming and Selah started barking orders. It turns out she was trying to boss him with regards to the sign-in pad, and he wanted nothing to do with what she wanted him to do. I finally got her to leave him alone and he Xed some boxes far away from his name, likely just to tick her off. Everyone stood and sang a hymn. I did not stand, because Noah was on my lap and it felt a bit beyond me at that point. Then Asher invited me to play the game where you draw lines and each time someone finishes a square, they write their initial in it. Thus I missed all of the announcements, but that’s OK, because Asher was not fighting with Selah.
“Is it time for Jackson’s party?” Noah asked.
Asher noticed the communion service was set up, and barked, “Oh good! We’re going to have bread and juice!” He has always really liked communion, because Asher has a special relationship with food and beverages. During his first communion, after they passed the communion-bread trays, he looked around and half-shouted, “When do they pass out the drinks?” I suspect he thinks it’s some kind of mid-church snack, despite his later theological musings.
When we got to the kids’ portion of the service, things actually went better than usual. Noah stood up and asked, “Is it time for Jackson’s party?” When I told him no, that was after church, he went up front. As usual, Selah sat there and made faces at me and/or stared off into the rafters instead of engaging with the pastor, but Asher refused to go up. Normally he tests the limits by walking around on stage and messing with stuff and/or jumping off the stage, followed by his shadow, Noah. Instead he stayed with me. Without someone to mimic, Noah sat there and actually participated. Pastor Keith brought up fireworks, and Asher perked up for a bit, since he had just experienced those a few days prior. Pastor Keith then asked, “What are some rules in your house?” The children who clearly are not in my family gave examples of house rules, and then Noah blurted, “Don’t jump in the pool!” While we do not have a pool, I thought that this was a pretty good rule, so I nodded. I think this was somehow related to the pool we played in on the Fourth of July.
On a different Sunday, Selah even manages to space out through the waving of Palm Fronds
After the children’s time, I walked Noah to Paul and Mary’s (“Is it time for Jackson’s party?”). He did not want to go to Paul and Mary’s. The big kids had stayed behind, you see. But when Paul and Mary told him that they had cookies, he was all about staying. I hustled back to the sanctuary, since I had left Asher behind (he didn’t want to go and I elected not to make a scene), and you really never know what is happening when Asher is left behind. I generally like to wait in the doorway when I return from dropping kids off because there is normally a musical performance of some sort, but this time I went ahead and barged in. I sat down, a bit flustered, and listened to the soloist with half an ear while Selah and Asher argued about tic-tac-toe, and he eventually crumpled up his paper while she protested. It’s too bad, because the soloist was good.
The sermon began, and Pastor Keith was talking about the Fourth of July. He said something about grilling meat for the holiday, and Asher said in awe, “How does he know all the stuff that WE DID?”
When the time for communion came, Asher carefully selected both a regular piece of bread and a gluten-free piece. He then carefully dissected the gluten-free piece and made a sandwich out of it and the regular bread. He wrinkled up his face and asked, “Are we getting juice?” I assured him that we were, and then he chose to save his bread when everyone else ate it, preferring to have it with the juice. He asked me, “Why don’t they hand out bread and juice every time?” I said, “We have this once a month,” and Selah corrected me: “No, we have it once a YEAR.” The juice tray went by, and Asher announced, “This is God’s blood.”****
After the sermon, Asher announced that he had to go potty, so I walked him out, and managed to come back in and reinterrupt the soloist. We sat down, and Asher set his tower of Legos on the rail in front of us. It teetered there until a critical point in the song, at which point it fell to the ground and clattered into at least 16 pieces. Asher went around the rail, presumably to fetch them, but then failed to come back. To my relief, everyone stood to sing, and so I swept up there, grabbing Legos and little boys and rushing them back into our pew. When we stood for the final song, Asher was struck with uncharacteristic shyness, so I shuffled him and Selah around so that she would be holding the hand of the lady sitting next to us. He spent the song trying to swing our hands with his hands while I muttered things at him.
After church, it is common for at least one person to comment that I have my hands full, and at least one person to comment that they love watching my kids. By this point, I actually really need to hear this most of the time, because I am questioning why I do not give up and stay at home, where the bickering and random comments are not witnessed by spectators. I know full well that there exist people who will question why I do not discipline my children, when I really do. Like family dinners, church is something that I keep doing with the kids with this vague idea that it will pay off someday. I try to keep it something pleasant so that they will want to go. I try to remember all of the people who have told me that it adds to their experience and forget the times when I know that we are specifically detracting from someone’s experience. I try to hang onto the hilarious and cute things that they do, and forget the times that Asher is just…intolerable. I am cheered when people who have made it through to the other side tell me, “This one time, I just wanted to KILL my son! I remember those days!” In fact, this is some of the reason why I like that my church is an aging church. By gosh, I cling to the cheer all of those people offer me, to their encouragement that I too will make it. Many of these same people have surprised me by telling me that they too were divorced, and that the lovely person standing next to them has only been there for 5/15/35 years. Just thinking about them makes me remember some of the reason I go. If I stay home, nobody will say that to me. Nobody will laugh and then earnestly look me in the eye and say, “You will make it through this. You are doing a good job. God loves children and their noise.” And on the days when I’m driven to tears instead of laughter, someone notices, because I’m there, crying in front of them, embarrassing as it is.
“You did the right thing. You made her stick with it.”
“I think those little boys are so adorable.”
“I went through that too. It’s so hard.”
“You are a good mother.”
“Your little girl is such an angel.”
I’m going to keep going if it kills me. And it might.
Photo by Sharon MacLean
*I’m not sure what makes me think I will be able to listen anyway when my kids are there.
**Bless these people and their excellent senses of humor.
***A certain other Dave reseated himself when we saw us coming two weeks ago. I would be offended if it were in any way not understandable.
****So was this something he learned at preschool? Or was he actually listening at some point? The world may never know.
I wish this were an unusual Sunday instead a better-than-average Sunday for us. Here’s the story of the Worst Baptism Ever.