Sunday School

I teach a Bible class for four- and five-year olds at my church every Sunday morning. It’s my favorite age to teach. They are old enough to listen and understand the Bible stories but young enough that when I “roll the gospel chariot” they don’t look at me like I’m a total idiot.
If you’ve never had the privilege of sitting in a folding chair with ten precious children surrounding you in a semi-circle at your feet, you’re really missing out. As a special treat for those of you who have never experienced it, here’s how a typical morning would go:
(I’ve just read the story from Mark 7 when Jesus healed the deaf and mute man. I’m prepared for some questions seeing as how Jesus “put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Be opened!”’ The story only encourages five-year olds to go off-message.)
“So what was wrong with this man?” I ask, pointing to the picture in my hand.
“He was deaf!” The majority of the class rings out in unison.
One boy raises his hand. “One time…” (Nearly every five-year old’s story starts with “one time.”) “One time my mommy was giving my daddy a haircut and she cut his ear.”
“One time,” another girl chimes in, “My mommy dropped a glass in the sink and it broke into a hundred pieces. Then…” (Uh oh. Here it comes. This particular little girl hasn’t told a regular story all year. Every one of her harrowing tales must end with an unexpected twist. I wouldn’t be surprised if she grows up to be a screenwriter for a soap opera. Her best story ever ended in her own death. She apparently drowned when her mom threw her in a swimming pool full of sharks.) She continued: “Then my mom picked up the glass and there was a doughnut on it! (pause for effect) And she ate it!”
“Me and my grandma wear our pajamas when we wake up in the morning but you know what my grandpa wears?” asks a different little boy.
“What?” I ask nervously, hoping I’m not about to find out something very personal about his grandfather and his chosen sleeping attire.
“He wears his regular clothes.”
Phew! That was a close one.
Another hand goes up. “Okay, last one,” I say as I point to the outstretched hand in the back.
“Do you wanna hear how a dog laughs? Brrr-ha-ha-ha. Brrr-ha-ha-ha,” he says with all the seriousness of a professor giving a college lecture.

All hands have been called on and the kids are ready for paper crafts and goldfish crackers. Another fulfilling Sunday school class is coming to a close. Next week they will return with more stories and animal facts. I will try to remain in charge of this lively group, hoping they won’t notice that the kids outnumber the adults and a coup would be all too easy.

Make Believe

I have always loved to pretend. When I was little I would pretend that I had blue eyes and blond hair. It became so real to me that I remember being stunned one day to see a little girl with brown eyes and a brown bowl-cut staring back at me in the floor length mirror mounted on the back of my parents’ bedroom door.

My sisters and I pretended every scenario we could think of. We were preachers, teachers, shopkeepers, and mothers. We “lived” in tree branches, under the front porch, and in blanket forts. We acted out scenes from TV show, movies, and books.

But at some point during those tricky “tween” years pretending became childish. Instead of Barbie-themed birthday parties, I was invited to pool parties with Duran Duran on the invitation. When I had a friend over, we didn’t play make-believe in the tree house anymore. Instead we rode bikes around the neighborhood to see who was playing in their yard.

I continued to use my imagination but I kept it locked away inside my head. I pretended what it would be like to have a boyfriend without actually having one. I pretended what I would do if my family died in a tragic disaster and I had to make it all alone in this cruel world. I pretended what I would say if a popular girl at school accused me of something and I had to defend myself. (Too many Sweet Valley High books. They’re like pouring gasoline on fire for an already dramatic child.) Even now, I can still create a completely fictional scenario in my head that will bring me to tears.

Having kids is the best thing for a lapsed pretender. It’s like riding a bike—all of those skills come rushing back. I knew exactly how to eat and drink imaginary food when my girls got their play kitchen and we had our first tea party. I quickly realized that their level of fun increased the more I stepped up my pantomiming. (Tip: If you’re new to this, always blow on the cup of tea to indicate that it’s too hot. They love it. I also always accidentally spill my cup on my pants so that I have to wipe it up with an invisible napkin.)

At church last night, I got to have a pretend picnic with a five year-old who has Down Syndrome. He has very limited speech but his imagination is amazing. When he drank invisible liquid from the miniature Tupperware cup, he made very realistic swallowing sounds. Then he picked up a plastic lemon and squeezed it over half of a plastic bun before eating it in giant Cookie Monster bites. He methodically placed plastic French fries in an empty plastic taco shell. As he angled the meal into his mouth, the French fries slipped out the back and fell onto the floor. He laughed until tears welled in his eyes. He was completely engaged in the reality of his pretending.

Now that my daughters are nearing ten, I’m loathed to think that their days of playing house and school will soon be over. I love to walk in on them as they are chastising their imaginary students for being too loud during circle time. My girls call these ghosts out by name: “Polly…you can’t sit by Horace anymore.” They are completely serious. I want to freeze them here. I want their pretend tragedies to be manageable and brief. (Like me, they also love to pretend their family has all died. I blame the Boxcar Children series. I once overheard one of them say, “I wish I was an orphan!” It didn’t hurt my feelings at all.)

They will eventually learn that life is full of painfully real tragedies that they can’t pretend their way out of. Life will turn them upside-down and make them yearn for days spent playing and dreaming. And then one day they will sit across a tiny table from their own children. They will blow away imaginary steam from a tiny plastic teacup and remember how good it feels to pretend again.

For Crying Out Loud

I am known by my family and most friends for being a “cry baby.” I tear up during baptisms, weddings, funerals, and half of the sermons I hear. I cry when someone comes forward during the invitation song even if he/she is a total stranger. (It sounds like I can’t make it through a Sunday without completely losing it.) I cry in movies—even bad ones—and commercials where soldiers come home from fighting overseas. In most any case, if I see someone tearing up, I just can’t hold back from joining in.

The thing that really gets me even more than something sad is human kindness. At Kroger this week, I saw a college-age guy go out of his way to get an empty cart from an elderly lady so she wouldn’t have to roll it back to the cart corral. Sniff, sniff. Inside, I saw a middle-aged female shopper complimenting a mentally challenged teen who is bused to the store to practice real world skills like stocking shelves. The shy teen smiled up at her with so much pride. My eyes brimmed over at this small, unexpected gift.

At times, it’s embarrassing to have this disorder. I think it’s genetic. My mom is the exact same way. Surely we have over-productive tear ducts or something. There have been times when I’ve watched a movie with friends and I’ve destroyed the tiny theater napkins by wiping my nose and eyes just to see my friends looking back at me through dry eyes. “Are you made of stone?!” I want to scream. They just answer back, “Yeah, it was sad but you know…” In other words: “We’re in public, so stop with the snotty tears, would ya?”

I want to know their secret. How do they keep from crying when actors (in movies) or even real people (at church or over lunch) reveal their innermost sins and fears and struggles? How can you see that kind of suffering and not be utterly devastated by the inhumanities we have to deal with everyday? I’m not assuming that they don’t feel that anguish too. I would never equate the liquid volume of tears with sincerity and compassion. I just honestly want to know how they keep their emotions from pouring out of their faces. I don’t think I was designed with an “off” switch to keep it in check.

I was happy to see Bubba Watson, the newest champion of the PGA, unable to keep it together. In every interview since his win last weekend, he has broken down on camera. That’s got to be worse than just crying in front of your friends. I read one interview that quoted a sports psychologist who said Bubba’s tears may actually help him. She said that holding in these strong emotions could have “a negative impact on his game.” Well, I don’t know much about golf but I’m an expert in crying. (I did beat Brent at putt-putt that one time…there maybe something to it after all!)

Smooth Move, Ex-Lax!

I have never been considered graceful. Growing up, I never created dance routines in front of a full-length mirror to a Debbie Gibson song. (I was more of a look-thoughtfully-out-the-car-window-as-I-sing-like-Cyndi-Lauper-in-the-“Time After Time”-video kind of girl.) My hands and feet are disproportionately large for my frame and I am not the exception that proves the rule about white people and their lack of rhythm.

So it should come as no surprise that I am clumsy, but yesterday was especially bad. I found myself in a constant hurry and for me that equals bruises. I did one of those quick neck twists to check on something in the backseat of the van that resulted in a sore neck for the rest of the day. (You know you’re getting old when backing out of the garage is hazardous to your health.)

Later, I ran into the house to change out of a sweaty t-shirt before a parent/teacher conference. I was trying to navigate through the doorway of our bathroom with my shirt halfway off and my sight wholly obstructed. I was trapped inside my shirt like a bad Houdini escape attempt when I slammed my elbow on the doorframe. I couldn’t straighten out my arm for hours. It was swollen like Fred Flinstone hit it with a Stone Age hammer. It’s still sore today.

Why are some people so graceful and others have the physical presence of Quasimodo? Can gracefulness be taught? Think of Scarlett O’Hara gliding down the red velvet steps of her grand foyer when Rhett has finally decided to leave her. It’s like she’s riding a really fast escalator. Now imagine me doing that. I’d have tripped on my dressing gown and landed in a crumpled heap at Rhett’s feet faster than he could say, “Frankly, I don’t give a…”

I do have one fleeting period of gracefulness that I will cling to until I am tripping fellow old people with my walker at the nursing home: When I was in high school, a boy once wrote a song about me. It was completely based on his fictional analysis of me but it said (in sweet poetic language) that my movements were lovely and I walked as if no one was watching. (It also said I had honey-colored hair.) Maybe gracefulness is in the eye of the beholder. If it can’t be taught at least clumsiness can be overlooked.