From Chicken Soup for the Mother of Preschooler's Soul

A Higher Perspective

Any mother could perform the jobs of several air-traffic controllers with ease.

Lisa Alther

I pulled the van into the parking lot of our towering church and paused in the chaotic midst of four rowdy children, as I do every Sunday.

Please, Lord, give me the strength to endure the stares and raised eyebrows of my fellow parishioners. Just for the next hour.

Sunday services aren’t an easy task with my husband deployed overseas. I thought it might be better if I spared everyone the grief and simply mailed in my weekly contribution for the next six months. But I suppose the love of a good challenge keeps me attending in spite of the kids’ complaining, tired whining and inevitable restlessness. Besides, it is an important time each week for our young family.

As the church bells chimed a hymn, I herded my little ones through the big doors.

“How is everyone today?” The priest’s glance swept the five of us. Six-year-old George and five-year-old Carolyn smiled shyly, but nearly three Sean wrinkled up his nose and hid behind my skirt.

“Good morning, Father,” I said.

But out of nervous embarrassment, I kept my head down as we located our usual seats near the rear of the church—where we could make a quick exit if necessary. Baby Sophie—already needing a nap—shrieked as I pulled off her coat. The noise bounced off the walls of our cavernous sanctuary. I felt my face flush.

As the service began, somebody needed the bathroom. Sean, the one who couldn’t go by himself. It was the typical quandary. Do I leave the other kids and take him myself, or trust George to escort him?

I took a small leap of faith. “George, please take Sean to the bathroom,” I whispered. The two noisy little boys made a rowdy exit, and I waited anxiously until they returned.

“Mom, now I need a ‘nack!” Sean announced loudly. I obliged with a handful of Cheerios to keep him quiet. Instead, he pulled a small dump truck out of his pocket, filled it with cereal and careened it—complete with action sounds—across our pew.

Casting a quick glance at the other parishioners, I cautioned, “Sean, you need to be quiet, or I’ll take your truck.” He wrinkled his nose and kept playing. Obligated to follow through on my threat, I confiscated the toy.

“AGGGHHHHHH!!” Sean flailed and drummed his heels against the seat. I thrust the truck back into his hand and slid low in the pew, hoping no one would know he was mine.

George hummed loudly and played with his tie. Carolyn lifted up her dress to admire her new underwear. Queasy with embarrassment, I hissed, “There will be no doughnuts today if you do not behave!”

Just then, the organist cued a few chords and the crowd rose. Singing is my favorite part of the service because its volume drowns out my children’s. My own voice rang as I wallowed in the few minutes of peace.

As soon as we sat down, Sophie started to fidget . . . then whine . . . then scream. She gargled as she flung her head back, kicking her legs. She sounded like Chewbacca.

I handed her to George so I could nab Sean, who had bolted down the aisle toward the altar. I snatched him and tucked him under my arm, scissoring his legs and wiggling for freedom. I tried to hold up my head as I marched back to our pew.

What must people be thinking? Mortified, I thrust my children back into their coats. We fled out the door and back to the van.

Church, for us, had lasted twenty minutes.

The following Sunday, George asked if we could sit in the balcony. With some reluctance, I agreed. We filed up the steps and sat down. And throughout the service, I made some surprising discoveries.

When Sean got bored, he could play on the carpeted floor. Sophie could crawl around in relative freedom. George and Carolyn could peer over the railing and see everything happening below.

And so could I.

From this vantage point, I observed the other children in the church. I saw screaming babies, willful toddlers and rambunctious preschoolers. I saw fidgeting kids and restless mothers.

But it was what I didn’t see that made the biggest impression. No one judged. No one stared. No one seemed to mind in the least that babies cried or small children tired. And I realized that people probably hadn’t been critical of me and mine, either.

As we filed from church that day, an elderly woman bustled over. “Honey, you have such a beautiful family! How do you keep them so well-behaved?”

I beamed, head held high. “It must be the higher perspective,” I said. And I proudly marched my children through the door. Skipping toward the car, the children shouted, “Yea! It’s doughnut time!”

Jennifer Oscar

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