Only God and some deep, cleansing breaths save this classroom of parents.
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It’s Saturday. A mild, sunny, beautiful Saturday morning—the sort of morning full of the promise of garage sales, and yard work, and leisurely brunches out on the deck. My son and I, however, have none of that planned. Instead, we’re in a reading class—two hours every Saturday for two months—in an attempt to hone my seven-year old’s reading skills.
There are twenty-four of us, twenty-five if you count the teacher. We’re an exact cross-section of Hartford, Connecticut’s, demographics: slightly less than half of us are white, six of us are African American, four Hispanic, and the rest are Asian. The mom-to-dad ratio is evenly split, and all of us have a stoic, “for the good of the children” vibe about us. The kids look longingly out of the windows. The parents do not.
The teacher hands out today’s reading books, which feature a brightly colored crocodile and hen on the cover, and instructs the students to flip through the pages to survey the story. My son dutifully turns to the first page, and snorts when he sees the picture. I note he does not even look at the text for an instant.
“Heh. The crocodile tried to eat that hen and it couldn’t, which seems like a crocodile that won’t live long if it can’t even catch a hen.” He snorts again, and flips to another page. “Do you want to dance, heh, heh, heh,” for some reason this second picture tickles him, and he starts giggling. I raise an eyebrow at him. He shrugs. “What? Crocodiles are dumb.” Around me, I hear the other kids making similar statements about the crocodile’s shocking inability to catch a fat hen.
The teacher begins to read the story, and it reveals itself to be a heartwarming story about the interconnectedness of all things, specifically with children (or in the story’s case, eggs) being the ties that bind all people together. Truly, an apt metaphor for this classroom, I think. Different on the surface, but all of us united in our love for our children. A love deep enough to sacrifice two months’ worth of Saturday mornings for.
This ancient college classroom isn’t air conditioned, and the warm, humid air and the feel-good story conspire to fill me with a sort of sleepy goodwill. The classroom suddenly seems thick with grace, and as my son and I turn our desks to face each other to begin independent reading portion of class, I’m feeling tremendously generous and tranquil. What a chance to model God’s love, I think. What an opportunity to show my son the depth’s of God’s mercy through this reading lesson. Instead of losing my temper at his stubborn insistence of sounding out every single word, I will remain calm. Instead of mentally shaking my fist at the heavens, railing against the inconsistencies of the English language, I will remain gracious and pleasant. I will be just like God—but in a humble sort of way.
Then the fidgeting begins. The exaggerated yawning. The slumping in the chair. It takes my son roughly two minutes to sound out the word “and,” mostly because I see his eyes keep flickering over to another boy, who is wearing a Minecraft shirt.
“He’s got a Minecraft shirt like mine!” he says and I nod indulgently, god-like in my patience, then try to redirect him to the adventures of Crocodile and Hen. It works for about three sentences, then the fidgeting starts again. The eyes drifting back to the Minecraft shirt, which, like a subliminal trigger, has derailed my son’s thought train and sent it far away from this classroom.
I grit my teeth. I realize I’m gritting my teeth, and so I take deep cleansing breaths. The patience of God, I remind myself, but what I want to do is snap at my boy and remind him that it is not necessary to sound out the word “it” every. single. time. But I don’t, not because of my god-like patience, which I’ve already forgotten ever pretending to possess. No, I don’t snap because I don’t want to be that one parent who loses out to irritation, even though I’m fairly certain I’m not the only one riding the edge. The man next to me, who speaks to his daughter in a thick Jamaican accent and shows up to class with a different anti-capitalism book each week, is beginning to take deep cleansing breaths, too, I notice. And the aggressively tan woman who always shows up in pristine workout clothes is massaging her temples slowly while her son sounds out the word “hen” for the fifth time.
I sit among my brothers and sisters—united not only in our willingness to sacrifice for our children, but also in our teeth-gritting, temple-massaging, cleansing-breath taking love for them. And while all of us there clearly do not have the patience of God, I know that He is in that classroom with us, radiating love- and patience- enough for all.
Cari Donaldsonis the author of Pope Awesome and Other Stories: How I Found God, Had Kids, and Lived to Tell the Tale. She married her high school sweetheart, had six children with him, and now spends her days homeschooling, writing, and figuring out how to stay one step ahead of her child army. She blogs about faith and family life at clan-donaldson.com.