A couple times a year Alex and I are sentenced to the torment of our church’s nursery. It’s all very noble and self-sacrificial and allows parents a break from their offspring. I should feel honored– but it mostly gives me an overwhelming sense of desperation. I don’t know what to do with other people’s children. In my family we throw them in the air, tell them they smell funny, then shoot them with a Nerf gun. There were exactly zero guns in the church nursery. I was at a loss and I missed the entire orientation part because I was swiftly assigned the duty of holding a little girl as she screamed “Mom! Back!”
I’m pretty sure I was sentenced to Crying Baby Duty simply because I’m a woman. There were four dudes with me and I could feel them type casting-me as the designated nurturer. RUDE. Don’t they know I write terrible things on the internet? My Crying Baby was not a legit crying baby—I could see her sizing me up with shrewd eyes, evaluating just how much she could get away with if she screamed “Mom Mom Mom” for an hour and a half. I wanted to give her the side eye and let her know she’d met her match but was afraid of frightening the other children by revealing the lack of nurture going on.
Ten minutes passed.
A swarm of little girls followed me everywhere I went. They each held a torn book in their hands, desperately thrusting it to my lap. I’d make it to page three before a coup d’état was staged and Winnie the Pooh was replaced by Toad and the Frog or Berenstein Bears. I recognized some of these from my own childhood and glazed over the words, making up my own story.
“This little girl is about to eat a butterfly.”
I’d never had such a captive audience. Innocent eyes watched my every move. Snot dripped from their noses as they attempted to brush away strands of hair that were firmly stuck to the smeared bits of baby goop on their cheeks.
Fifteen minutes passed.
I decided to be optimistic and focus on what I had in common with the ankle biters: We all liked chocolate donuts with sprinkles (even if they were plastic) and red pandas (even if the book made it look like they live in Africa).
All was going well until two of them started fighting. The girl in the purple koolots kind of seemed like a bully. I felt like I should intervene, lest koolat girl become a sociopath and bullied child become a doormat. I was trying to figure out how to do this when they both stopped and stared at me.
“Oh shit,” I thought. “They see me. They know I know. They know I know that they know I know.”
I decided to let them work it out on their own, knowing it would be a valuable opportunity to learn conflict resolution skills.
20 minutes passed.
I felt something stuck to the back of my calf. Panic set in. Was it the flap of a dirty diaper? A booger-strewn tissue? No. It was a name tag for one of the children.
“Which one is Allie? Probably one of the girl ones.”
There was another kid named “Ollie,” which meant they were probably siblings because parents love that matching name shit. Then again, they probably weren’t siblings because their outfits weren’t coordinated. All good Protestants coordinate their kids’ Sunday outfits, though I can’t help wondering why. Wouldn’t that make it extra difficult to tell them apart? What would be REALLY helpful is coordinating parent and child outfits. That way I’d know which toddler belonged to which adult, instead of standing awkwardly until they point them out to me.
I remember doing something very similar when I picked Zola from a litter of puppies. I chose her because one of her toes was white. What if one of those adults hadn’t really been a parent but just liked Allie’s curly hair? This could be a great way to kidnap children. I’ll have to keep this in mind, just in case I can’t have my own.
30 minutes passed.
One of the guys began to read a Bible story about someone getting their head chopped off. The kids gathered round, clutching cups of goldfish crackers, listening intently. I filed this winning combination away for future parenting purposes: veiled threats of violence + cheese flavored crackers = temporary silence.
An hour and a half passed.
We were finally free. My right arm was shaking with nerves, my left arm smelled like a well saturated diaper, and my ears were ringing with words like “potty, mine, again,” and “up.” I have to commend all of you who have children in your lives for more than an hour and a half at a time. I’m sure I’ll try to join your ranks one day.
*points across nursery*
“Yeah, I’ll take that one. The one eating the caulk from around the window sill.”
I’ll stand before you like a gladiatorial champion, fresh blood in the sand, ready to conquer.
“We who are about to parent, salute you!”
Someone from my church is probably going to read this and I’ll never be allowed to work in the nursery again. If I’m lucky.
Do you enjoy watching other people’s children? What is the scariest thing about having kids? How much do you sensor them from all the crazy happening in your brain?
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