For the past ten years I have spent my mornings teaching a class of preschoolers at a Presbyterian church in Decatur, GA. When I took the gig I thought it would be an easy job I could do for a couple of years while I prepared for bigger and better things. I was wrong on both counts. A couple of years have stretched into ten, and teaching young children, though immensely rewarding (nothing beats the limitless adoration a child gives when once you’ve earned their trust), I have found to be hard and humbling work. Two year olds don’t care how many degrees you have when they’ve pooped their pants or can’t stop crying because their mother has somewhere else to be that doesn’t include them.
I remember one Monday morning following Spring Break and Easter Sunday a little boy stalled at the door of my classroom, refusing to take off his backpack and commit to the school day. I couldn’t blame him. I’d done the same thing when I had arrived to work that morning.
Hoping to coax him into the classroom with a little light conversation, I said enthusiastically, “Hey, buddy! Did you have a good Easter?” He didn’t answer.
“I bet you got a chocolate bunny in your Easter basket. Didn’t you?” Still no answer. The child only shrugged his shoulders and stared blankly off in the distance at nothing in particular.
I knelt beside him so as to be on his level, and as I removed his backpack from his shoulders asked, “What’s your favorite part of the bunny to eat first? I always start with the ears.”
I can’t think why I insisted on pursuing this chocolate bunny line of questioning. In hindsight, I can see it may have had the uncomfortably eccentric feel of a Willy Wonka à la Johnny Depp—not the sort of thing to entice a young child into a classroom for a morning of fun. It’s no wonder the child furrowed his brow at this point and looked me square in the eye as if to say, “Really, lady? You want to do this?” He mumbled something through tightly pursed lips. Had the child been a few years older I would have sworn he cursed at me.
“What did you say? What part of the bunny do you like to eat first?”
The little boy repeated himself, but this time he was careful to enunciate so there could be no mistaking him. “The nipples.”
I told the story to the child’s mother when she picked him up that afternoon. “I just want to know where the Easter bunny finds a chocolate rabbit like that,” I laughed. The color flushed from her face as she, slack-jawed and bug-eyed, looked to the boy hugging her leg and then back at me.
“I don’t know where he heard that.” She gasped. “We don’t talk that way at home.” She thought for a moment and then added, “His father is a pastor of a church,” as if this piece of information supplied validity to her assertion of a wholesome family life.
“He’s a preacher’s kid?”
I held up my hand to stop her. “Say no more. I am a preacher’s kid.”
She grabbed me by the arm and pleaded. “Then you understand.”
“Perfectly. Perhaps more than you.”
She relaxed her grip and the corner of her lip curled into a discerning smile. “Yes, I suppose you do.”
When I was in preschool and churchgoers asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up I liked to say, “a hooker.” I didn’t know what it meant, but there was something satisfying about the look of scandalized bewilderment on people’s faces when I said it. Preacher’s kids spend most of their days living in a glass house and are often expected to be a pillar of perfection. The pressure mounts, and sometimes you get the itch to say something a little inappropriate, a little shocking. It won’t go away until you scratch it.
The Dutch have a saying: “Clergy children are the devil’s children.” I don’t think that’s fair. I say the kind of preacher’s kid you meet depends a lot on the kind of preacher that they live with. Anyone would break under a Ned Flanders. Thanks be to God (and I mean that with all sincerity), our father was no Ned Flanders.
To be Continued….