the walk of shame.

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When I was pregnant with Atticus, I felt close to Mother Mary, she who had walked those same steps (or rode them on a donkey, if you prefer). But I am not finding a lot of biblical models for parenting a toddler. There’s Hannah, who dropped her toddler off with Eli and went home to put her feet up. Later in life, Jesus basically runs a daycare with the slogan “let the little children come to me.” I hope these stories mean that the Bible is big on moms getting some rest.

There are no stories, though, of Jesus’ toddlerhood. Do you think that’s because there was nothing much to report or because the dudes who wrote the Bible weren’t big on childrearing? I’m just saying: That Jesus fellow seems pretty stubborn to me. Go ahead and imagine him at the age of three. Do you really think Jesus never asserted his will, causing Mary a walk of shame out of the Nazareth equivalent of a Target? Learning how to be human causes some conflict.

Speaking of the walk of shame, I had a situation this week where I had to take Atticus out of church. Let me fall all over myself to say that he was not being bad. He said that he wanted to stay in big church with me and so he was, per my request, quietly playing with his car on the floor under the pew. And then in the aisle. And then he was lying on the floor and driving it on the wall and I was a little squirmy about it but I was hanging in. But when he wanted to stand up and drive his car on the wall of the sanctuary during the deacon ordination, I had to intervene.

When I told him I needed him to sit down, he gave me that look, you know the one. The smirk that indicates that he is going to do what he wants and he does not care for your concerns regarding the deacons or the congregation and you are welcome to watch him as he defies you because it’s nap time and snacks have been eaten and go ahead, make my day, mama. (He’s an expressive fellow.)

I took him out. We went home.

And I cried about it because I don’t know how quiet I should ask him to be in church and I don’t know if I should let him drive his car on the wall even if he’s lying on the floor. I don’t want him to bother other people but I also want him to see church as a place where all of him is welcome. I cried until I decided to quit church forever. Forever, I told Mike. I am not going back. We can be a family who worships in pajamas. At our own house. Amen.
Before I fully quit church, I posted on facebook about my frustrations. You might know this already, but the question of children’s behavior in church is one where everybody has a lot of opinions. I was hoping for some good tips and for people to be gentle with me. What I did not expect was the outpouring of love and encouragement from my friends and family. There were a lot of kind words about wanting Atticus in church for the long haul which means starting now. There were some suggestions about things that worked for others in the past. And there was one comment in particular that simply said, “It is all part of the promise we all made during Atticus’s dedication.”

Huh.

I have said this to other people, that their children are part of our congregation and that they are not bothering me. I have made promises at dedications and promises at baptisms and promises when people joined the church. But I have to tell you, I really needed the reminder that Mike and I are not doing this alone. We made these promises to do this together, and we have to keep showing up so we can do our part.

So, I guess I am going to return to church at some point (although I will probably be a little bit shy about it because I know for real that everybody will be watching me and my kid). We will pass snacks down the pew and draw pictures and dole out quiet toys as slowly as we can. We will be thankful for the songs because we can stand up and make a little noise. And if we don’t make it the whole service, we will reject shame and remember love because we are still learning how to do this thing.

On Sunday afternoon, after I had quit and then rejoined church, I took Atticus to our neighbors’ house. He pulled a book off their shelf, opened it up, and put it on the piano. Then he sat down and started playing just like he saw in church.

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9 Comments

  1. This is, as always, beautiful, Kari. Even though our church takes the more separate programming for young kids approach, I loved reading the encouragement of your community. Simple actions and acknowledgements of how our church community loves and values my crazy toddlers mean the world to me.

    Posted 2/18/2014 at | Permalink
  2. I love SO much the comment about it being what they promised during his dedication. I have never thought about it that way. What a blessing. We had some tough church services when my daughter was a toddler, but I am happy to report that we all survived that time, and that she loves church very much….and at ten years old there are no me re snacks or quiet toys needed.

    Posted 2/18/2014 at | Permalink
  3. Susan

    Love this, Kari. My pastor recently said something about the only goal for the children’s/youth program is that they know they are loved and that church is a safe place. Not a place with a bunch of rules to follow, not just another version of school, not even that they all are “saved” when they leave… Just loved and safe. I love that approach, and I am so glad you are in a place where Atticus is offered those things from his church family at every stage and volume level :).

    Posted 2/18/2014 at | Permalink
  4. Paige Woodward

    Kari – your writing is so poetic as always. Don’t worry about anything. Worry is your ONLY problem…ever. :)

    Posted 2/19/2014 at | Permalink
  5. Kim Gaetz

    Kari, I can totally relate. We go to a church with college students which has so much energy of its own but no other children at student mass but Timothy. We sit in the front, thinking it is less tempting for him to run up than down the aisle and our priest kindly integrates all of the remarks that he calls out as part of his sermon. “What are some of the graces we can ask God for more of?” “Bananas!” On his tantrum days, I definitely feel the “walk of shame” as I carry my screaming, thrashing child out under the eyes of people young enough to be between the parent and child, but only being able to relate to the child. It is hard not to feel resentful that I am missing church so that we can find pine cones outside in the mud. At these times, I grapple with the notion that we are expecting too much from a toddler to sit in church and maybe we should take turns going and keeping him home. Then he sings about Jesus in his pretend play and thanks God for Father Tony and his many college age buddies at church. Every week, our priest thanks us for being there and for bringing Timothy, as a model to the others of a Christian family and some comfort to those who are far from home and missing younger siblings. Then I can remind myself it is all part of bringing a child up in a Christian village, where he will grow up around loving, God-centered people– and that is more important than silence.

    Posted 2/19/2014 at | Permalink
  6. @Kim Gaetz: Yes to all of this. I have had to readjust my expectations of what I am to get from church, but that’s not a bad thing. Now I can see the beauty in the imperfections, too.

    Posted 2/19/2014 at | Permalink
  7. Laurie White

    Hi Kari,
    Oh, have I been there! My daughter, Kathryn–now 41–had a will of steel and a very strong need to be center stage when she was that age. Once she hid under a chair and ambushed her daddy’s boss when he sat down. You might try the balcony if precious Atticus insists on staying but not conforming. I visited a country church when my daughter was that age. Everybody was black but me and my mother. Kathryn wasn’t with us. Ladies dressed all in white patrolled the aisles looking for out of control children and promptly took them outside. What a great concept! No more wrangling with Mom; the formidable lady in white was the Decider! By the way, Kathryn is a wonderfully funny, creative–and quiet–adult! She still has the will of steel, and, gosh, I’m glad. It kept her out of trouble when some of her friends got into big, terrible trouble as teenagers. And it kept her interested in all kinds of creative things like drumming and writing. She married a professional artist. If I’m any judge, you’ve got a boy like that–and why wouldn’t you, with you and Mike as his parents?Isn’t College Park great? Thanks for bringing up this topic! Love, Laurie

    Posted 2/19/2014 at | Permalink
  8. I just love mothers like you who are trying, who are doing your best. Their best to take into consideration BOTH your child and your fellow congregants.

    It’s so encouraging to see a mother who doesn’t give up on having her child in church, even when it’s hard. But who also doesn’t take a “my child being in church is more important than these other 100 people around me ability to pay attention and participate in this worship experience.”

    I have known both kinds of mothers, and I’m sure walking that balance is such a fine line that is difficult at times. Bravo!

    Posted 2/22/2014 at | Permalink
  9. And because I can’t find an entry where you talked about the Jesus Story Book Bible (did I dream that?), I wanted to leave a book recommendation here. I personally DO believe you can see reflections of Jesus in so many of the stories of the Old Testament. Not all, but many (which in my memory I think you were saying you did not see that), but I thought you might enjoy Crazy Stories, Sane God.

    http://smile.amazon.com/Crazy-Stories-Sane-God-Unexpected-ebook/dp/B00I9I8JGW/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1393106883&sr=8-1&keywords=crazy+stories+sane+god

    I haven’t read it yet, but I can only recommend because a good friend recommended it to me in light of all those hard and “crazy” stories of a God whose character we sometimes question, but always trust. I just thought it might be something you’d be interested in.

    Posted 2/22/2014 at | Permalink

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