We file in to start church, which begins with announcements if there are any, and a lengthy pulpit prayer. I sit in the back of four rows with my four kids. I scramble to wipe my children’s hands with a wipe, apply hand sanitizer, and liberally hand out South Africa’s versions of graham crackers. Eating keeps my toddlers quiet during the prayer, if I can give them more before they ask. I try not to rattle the wrapper.
I am rewarded for my efforts at contributing to contemplation with the loud clunk of Carson’s sippy cup hitting the floor when his antsy sister accidentally knocked it off the seat. It rolls to the row ahead. No worries. A church member hands it back to me. Two or three crackers die a crunchy death as they fall to the floor between chubby, white fingers. If I don’t move fast enough to pick them up, one of my toddlers will retrieve it later and enjoy its muddy frosting.
This is not a terrible distraction to my African friends. The Meyers’ hullabaloo is overshadowed by the intermittent arrival of church members arriving throughout the prayer. Three other toddlers have arrived today–two the age of Carson, around 18 months, and one slightly older than Callie at 3 years old.
The song service begins at the same time Meyers’ snack time has come to an end. Seth comes back to sit with me and the kids if his seat wasn’t snatched by a latecomer. A teen runs the song service, and another teen plays the guitar. Seth and I sing loudly, hoping to inspire confidence on the lesser known songs.
On song number three or four, I take Carson back to his makeshift bed. I lay him down and sit with him, patting his back until he falls asleep. He does fall asleep but probably won’t sleep through the service. He’s getting too old for this. If he doesn’t sleep however, I have no chance of hearing the sermon. Today I’m concerned that his brother will either get sick on him or wake him. I threaten Colin on pain of death not to move or wake Carson and head back to my seat to watch Callie and Caleb during the sermon.
I set Callie and Caleb each up with a Bible, paper, and pen. They can sit through the sermon with these items, although Callie needs more supervision, being younger.
The three-year old, a challenging sprite of a girl, has worn bright, shiny, loud red shoes today. She doesn’t sit. In church or Sunday school. She stomp-dances loudly around the room, enjoying the sound of her clacking shoes. This is worse than her usual activities–playing with the doors or playing outside. Her mother, a high schooler, isn’t sure how to handle her. I take her to the back room to introduce her to the nursery toys. Again.
The two other toddlers there are getting sleepy as well. They put up a fuss. One of them is nursed (openly) to sleep by his mother, and the other is left alone to play. He wanders around the room with a handful of red cheetoes, even up by Seth, and rocks back and forth on his heels, considering plucking the tempting guitar strings with his red powder-covered fingers. He eventually sits down on the floor in front of the first row and falls asleep doubled over in half with his head between his knees!
Five minutes into the sermon, a backsliding brother walks in. Ah, so encouraging to see him come today! Two minutes later, my stomach-sick son scrapes open the lazy door to the kitchen as he emerges to tell me he needs to use the toilet. Sigh. Good feelings gone.
A barrage of uncertainties goes through my mind: Did Carson wake up? (I don’t know how to take other children to the toilet with Carson along, while Seth is occupied!) Does Colin really have to go? Is he sick? Can I leave Callie or should I take her too?
But my stomach-sensitive son also has an unpredictable bladder capacity, so I take him. I’m not even out the door when Callie decides she also needs to go. Bummer. I hate taking them to the outdoor toilet. Whatever you’re thinking of, it’s worse. A ledge made out of concrete with holes in it for the users provides no comfortable way to sit without touching it all over! I’m not strong enough to hold the child up in a way feasible to typical relief. It’s messy from former users. Almost nothing makes me crankier quicker. Except when I have to take two children. 🙂 Thankfully, this time I remembered to take the wipes along.
The shiny-shoe-clad three-year old has tagged along the whole time and decided to crowd her way in to another of the ledge-holes in the toilet. I told her in Tsonga to bug off and wait her turn. It is beyond taxing to handle my toddler’s needs with another body taking up the tight space.
We head back in where I apply a liberal dose of sanitizer. Oops, a little too much. The smell wafts over the back row, making me cough. This time, I’m not chancing Colin going back in with Carson. He’s sitting with me in the service.
I haven’t completely gotten over my cranky mood. Shiny-shoe girl is stomp-dancing around again, and I think I’ve heard 5% of the sermon so far. My percentage is usually better than that.
Just now I notice that the caretaker of the toddler who is sleeping two feet from Seth’s feet is craning her head, looking around, searching for the little tyke. I catch her eye and discreetly point toward the front. She can’t see him, but relaxes, knowing he’s accounted for somewhere.
The hand sanitizer has just dried when I hear Carson cry. Aw, man! I can tell by his cry that he would have liked to sleep longer. If I get there soon enough, maybe he will… I rush back to keep him on his mat and pat his back again. I rushed before thinking of telling Callie to sit quietly. She followed me.
I sit beside Carson attempting to keep him lying down, but his sister is sitting on my lap trying to pick up his blanket to see what mysteries might be under there. Callie puts her muddy shoes all over my skirt. I scold her but regret it when she cries. I simply remove her shoes then.
Shiny-shoe girl has decided to investigate what we’re doing now. She uses her body weight to scrape the door open. I keep my place with my children, putting on a positive face I don’t feel, and place my finger over my lips. “Sh.” She throws her hip into the door, scraping it loudly one inch further. I frown at her and shush her. She continues. I scramble mentally for what one word in Tsonga would be most effective for a quiet, firm command to a disobedient three-year old…I come up with, “Go!” I extend my full arm pointing out at the main room. She does not go. I ignore her. Carson is fully awake now, but not on his feet yet.
Now she tries to shut the door. Scrrrrrape. My temper is rising. She almost shuts the door but then puts one shiny-red-foot through the crack and one jacket-clad arm through the door. She slides both appendages back and forth along the wall and floor. Both Callie and Carson are sitting now to see the show.
I come forward to say a Tsonga phrase I’ve often heard mothers use but don’t really mean. Let’s just say it’s the equivalent of, “I’m gonna get ya.” Only I meant it. Sort of. She went!
I hear Seth interject his sermon with an English, “Stop it, Colin.” It dawns on me that I had heard a thumping noise for a while. My eyebrows lower at the realization that he has definitely crossed a line there, and now he’s gonna get it too.
I tell Callie to STAY and walk out to remind Colin of his position in life and in church. I return to the toddlers and try to keep them out of the onions and water in the corner. Oh, sweet relief! I hear the prayer ending the sermon–ironically, on the fruit of the Spirit, specifically, joy. Well, maybe I can get a recap from my husband sometime later in the day…
Come back next week for the Sunday School hour.