On Sunday morning, in an effort to begin the domestication process, we attended the church where Danny will be going to preschool in the fall. We're getting glimpses of the little boy that he's becoming. He wants to be around “the kids.” I've noticed him playing with, instead of alongside, a group of boys at Parents Morning Out. In fact, in a desperate attempt to quell the violence against sister, I explained that if he hurts other kids they won't want to play with him. He gave me a wide eyed look and nodded with quivering lip and said, “I want to play with the kids.” But he's still exhibits many of the hallmarks of the mental illness known as toddlerhood; hence, we need to start giving him plenty of chances to practice some social skills lest he get kicked out of preschool next fall.
Truth be told, we haven't gone to a Sunday church service since last fall. And that's a shame because I've been missing the fellowship, structure and spiritual discipline that church has provided me in the past. The last time we went to Mass was on Christmas Eve and it was a Christmas miracle that we even made it. We got out to the van with time to spare and discovered that it would not start. I sighed heavily, looked at my family, dressed and ready for Mass, then at the sky and said, “Really, God?”
Actually, I felt the same way Sunday morning when our 3 year old son came down the stairs and had a meltdown when I cheerily informed him that Daddy had put his oatmeal on the table for him. (We're talking full on, floor sprawling tantrum here.)
Deep breath. (Ignore him. Ignore him. Ignore him.)
Lately, we're walking on eggshells around here, trying not to needlessly upset him. God forbid we do anything at all for him that he believes, physical limitations be damned, that he can do himself. Nevermind that he sometimes tries to put his jacket on upside down and two legs in one hole or “tunnel” as he calls it. Getting dressed can take either 3 minutes or a half hour, depending on his mood. One misstep and we can go from zero to screaming in 2 seconds. In fact, if you do something for him, like take his shirt off, he must put the shirt back on and take it off himself. Really. But I digress ...
I did not have high hopes that we could get everyone dressed and out the door by 8:20. At around 8:00 a.m. he threw a rather large, metal toy car down the stairs while his sister was coming up. Let's just say the two met in the middle and Fiona now has a cut just under her nose. (One day soon, she is going to kick his little butt. Today, she took one look at him holding a cup that she wanted and smacked it right out of his hand.)
At church, I was expecting Danny to balk, just as he did the first time I took him to the preschool church, as we're calling it now. If you recall, he ran around, wouldn't go near the classroom or the kids, and later told me that he didn't want them to “catch him.” Um, okay. I was expecting Fiona to cry when we left her in the nursery. They gave me a pager just in case she was inconsolable and I didn't expect to be able to sit through the entire church service. Actually, I didn't expect to even make it out of the house let alone through the church's front door. To say my expectations were low is an understatement.
Much to our delight and mild chagrin, the kids behaved better there than they typically do with us.
Imagine our surprise when our loud, balky, somewhat violent son walked right up to a greeter at the front door and showed him the cut on his hand. He then stuck with us while the nice people lead us to the nursery. Danny walked right into the classroom, which is actually his preschool classroom, and started talking to a little boy about the toy cars scattered on the floor. When we picked him up, he was cleaning up train tracks with another little boy. The nursery worker said he did great. He later told me that he pushed a little boy. He explained, "No Max," pushing his arms to each side. "I need space." Sounded reasonable enough to me. As for Fiona, she barely noticed when I left or when I came back for her. (I feel so loved.)
Apparently, they both reserve the cantankerous behavior solely for us. A friend who was once a preschool teacher often tells me that children will behave better for strangers than for their parents. The reason? They're comfortable with us. They know that they can be wretched little ogres and we'll still love them. With strangers, they're not so sure.
Somehow, I'm just not flattered by this notion.