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.”
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.