Beware Children Who Behave Perfectly in Church

I don’t follow many blogs, but I began followingThe Adventures of Miss Fanny P, several3 cherubs weeks ago, and it rarely fails to make me chuckle.  The writer is a mother of two little boys whose stories remind me that no matter where on the globe we live, mothers are all pretty much the same.  We love our children beyond words.  We cannot restrain ourselves when announcing their latest accomplishments.  And when necessary, we chastise them so others might see them as perfect little angels.

In one of her posts, Miss Fanny P refers to relatives who have perfect children who sit calmly and quietly at church.  I almost choked on my coffee and laughed out loud, for there was once a time when my three perfect angels sat quietly in church.  Or so I thought.

Our children were raised in a Born-again-Bible-thumping-sing-it-till-you’re-hoarse church.  Their father and I had made young adult commitments to a living God and although we didn’t always agree with every teaching from any one church, we decided it was important to be active members of a local congregation.  He is a talented musician, and although my skills were not as well-honed as his, our voices blended in perfect harmony.  For many years he led our church worship team in weekly services, pounding the melody on the piano, while directing a rock and roll drummer, guitarists and several vocalists.   He had them, as they say, dancing in the aisles.

The children spent a great deal of time in our church building. During Saturday morningabby angelic 2jpg worship team practice, Elizabeth napped by my side, while Abigail and Gabriel played hide-and-seek under the pews, crawling around like little GI Joes, trying to see who could travel from the back of the sanctuary to the front without being tagged.  The kids went to Sunday school before services and Vacation Bible School during the summer.  They accompanied me to mothers’ meetings and missions meetings, teachers’ meetings and meetings to plan other meetings.  They were nearly as comfortable at church as they were in their own living room, and therein is the rub.

gabe angelic0001In those days, we rose early on Sunday morning, ate breakfast, and with three freshly  scrubbed cherubs in tow, made our way to church before the first service began.  We seated our angels on the front pew, where we could see them, and they could see us.  I stood to the right of the altar with the other back-up singers, and their dad sat at the piano, at the opposite side.  Usually, a couple from the congregation would “adopt” the children during the song service, feeding them breath mints and whispering answers to their questions until the songs ended and we joined them on a pew.  But every once in a while, the three children would sit by themselves in the front pew, without an adult nearby. I never worried. They were freshly combed and their clothes were carefully ironed. They were polite and respectful.  They did not talk back. They did not whine.  I worked very hard to present three perfect angels to our congregation every Sunday morning.

On one such Sunday, as we began the first song, I looked down at the children.  The pews were full, and although the ceiling fans and air conditioners were running at full tilt, it promised to be a long, hot service.  Elizabeth, who was not yet in school, playfully lifted her dress over her head, and letting it fill with air, billowed it down to the pew like a parachute.  I silently willed her to look at me so she might see my disapproving expression and stop, but it was to no avail. Over and over, she flapped her dress up and down, exposing her little belly and My Little Pony underwear.

Not to be outdone, Gabe grabbed a Bible and began fanning it in Abby’s face.  It hit her nose and she retaliated by pushing him off the pew.  Gabe fell onto Elizabeth, who tumbled to the floor next to him.  And with one fell swoop, war was declared.

The song was reaching its crescendo.  Men and women clapped their hands and sang, stomping their feet in rhythm.  The drummer, sweat running down his face, kept perfect time, as the guitars followed the piano’s lead.  I tried to hold my vocal harmonies while alternating between scowls and head shakes at my three feuding offspring, but it was no good. They knew better than to look my way.

Suddenly, mid-verse, the piano and my husband’s strong tenor voice stopped.  The guitars trailed off, as did the vocalists, and the drummer, in the middle of a roll, crashed once on the high hat and looked around to see why the music had ceased.  The congregation and I watched as my children’s father silently got up from the piano, strode to the front pew, and whispered to his three wide-eyed and now very quiet children.  Then, as if nothing happened, he returned to the piano, and picked up the song exactly where he had left it.

The kids never acted out at church again.  I thought that whatever was said to them putelizabeth angelic0001 the fear of God Himself into them and they, realizing their sin, put away their wicked ways forever. But last week, I found their children’s Bible and leafing through the pages, found crayoned drawings and notes jotted during church- not at all innocent and exemplary of “good” Christian children.  They were sarcastic, and disrespectful and deliciously sinful.

You might think I am disappointed, but you are wrong.  I am delighted, because my three very normal children have grown up to be three exceptional adults.  They love God, but they do not always follow the church’s rules. They often challenge the way things have always been done.  They question.  They disrupt.  They turn my world upside down, just as they did when they were three little misbehaving monkeys in the front pew.  And I, who wanted my children to appear to be little angels, learned that no child is perfect, as no adult is perfect.  Which is why Jesus was born in the first place.  Which is why I chose my faith as a young adult.  I only wish I understood it so well twenty years ago.

So, Miss Fanny P, beware perfect children who behave at church.  Things are not always as they appear.  Thank God!

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Temper, temper…

When was the last time you threw a temper tantrum?  As a child, I was a master- I could stomp and scream and pound my pillow with the best of them.  I even broke several objects, including a doll that belonged to my sister, at least that is what she tells me.  I don’t really remember.   Funny how that works.

I do remember stamping my foot in the bathroom while my mother prepared me for a nap.  “I’m not tired!” I whined.  It is true, you know, that Mother knows best.

When my kids were little, they kept the family legacy alive.  One day, when Abby was four, I took her, Gabe and Elizabeth grocery shopping.  We got through the entire store without incident, and were headed toward the home stretch in the Health and Beauty Aids section, when Abby spotted a rack of Care Bear sticker books.  Of course, she wanted one.  Of course, they were not in the budget. 

When I refused her request, she decided to try another tact, and threw herself down on the floor, kicking and screaming for all she was worth.  That girl had pipes! People came running from all over the building to see what the problem was.  Gabe calmly sat in the grocery cart, munching bread through the plastic bag, while Elizabeth shoplifted from her perch in the pack strapped to my back.   I wanted to crawl under the shelf of Q-tips, or swallow an entire bottle of Extra Strength Tylenol.  I briefly considered leaving an entire basket of groceries where it stood to make a quick exit.  I even considered buying the damned sticker book.

Instead, I quietly picked Abby up, plopped her on her feet and half-dragged her, kicking and screaming, through the checkout.  As every parent knows, to let her win this battle is to lose the war.

Last week, an angry man yelled at me over the phone.  He was frustrated because he wanted an afternoon appointment for his child, instead of an evening one.  The evening was not convenient for him.  He had other things to do.

Despite my explanation that there were no afternoon appointments left, he continued to scream obscenities over the phone.  He finally ended with instructions to his wife, “Tell her I’m coming down there and I’m going to smash her f-ing teeth down her f-ing throat!” (His adjectives, not mine. Actually, I misquote.  He did not say “f-ing.”  He said the whole word.  But my mother would have washed my mouth out with soap for words like that, so I refrain.  Most of the time.)

In what world is it okay to make vile threats of bodily harm, just because you don’t get what you want?  The police called it “criminal threatening” and asked if I wanted to press charges.  His wife wanted to explain “their side of the story.”

Me?  I think maybe long ago, someone should have said “no” when he wanted a Care Bears sticker book. 

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