We’ve been talking quite a bit about the state of education in our country, encroachment of government agencies, removal of a child from a home, teachers’ new curriculum with a socialist bent, and pedophillia. Then, Judy W said something this morning which hit me broadside…. and made me tear up. She reminded me of one particular kid who landed on our doorstep in the middle of the night. He was terrified. This isn’t a story about “that” kid, because his story is too sensitive for this forum, but it is a story about speaking up….., doing the right thing….., even when faced with rabid opposition……, to protect children.
I was drafted to teach 4th grade Sunday School at the local Presbyterian Church. This is the church where I was baptized, married, and my son was baptized. My grandfather was a deacon and my dad was a deacon. Heaven knows, I am NOT the best Christian, full of “sin” and multiple character flaws. I can’t rattle off scripture and details of biblical stories are kind of fuzzy to me. BUT, if reliability and pragmatism are highly praised virtues, then I’m the “Christian” to call. Nonetheless, I wouldn’t be anyone’s first choice to teach 4th grade Sunday School. Let’s just say, my approach was a little bit “unorthodox” – pardon the pun.
When assigned the task, the elder ladies of the church lectured me, because they knew me. They handed me the booklets and materials to teach….., along with a litany of advice on HOW to teach the children. I groaned and scowled but nodded, dutifully. This meant I had to prepare lessons, do the requisite reading, and be able to answer questions, from smart kids. Oh, my! At the time, I had an infant child, B&B guests every Sunday morning, mandatory breakfasts, and 5 rooms to turn before 3pm – with no staff on Sunday. How in the world was I going to get it all done, and be dressed, gorgeous, and engaging, for church + Sunday School?
Admittedly, for several Sunday school lessons, I winged it, and the kids and I learned our lessons together. My paying guests usually ran late and I barely made it out of my door in time for Sunday School but the kids were happy. Oddly, as time passed, I noticed more and more kids in my class.
One day, Ms. Susan (not her real name), who was a generation older than me, showed up in my class to yell at one of my students. Caroline was in 5th grade and supposed to be in Miss Susan’s class, but Caroline was sneaking into my class, because my class was more fun. The way Susan spoke to Caroline was nasty and unduly vicious. Caroline began to cry. Caroline was wrong to sneak into my class, but Susan was WAY out of line. It was obvious the problem was more about Susan, than it was about Caroline. I took it up with Susan and Caroline remained in my class. My class continued to grow…., which apparently led to more resentment among the church ladies. It reminds me of how the media and Never-Trumpers feel about President Trump. They hated my style but could not argue with my results. Hey, I brought snacks to my class!
One beautiful Sunday morning, right before Easter, I was completely unprepared for Sunday School, flat busted with no time left to read the lesson. I was desperate for a creative solution.
The previous week, WalMart had a sale on tents. All their camping tents were in a big bin by the front door. These were $150-250 tents, priced on sale at $10-15. On a lark, I bought 15 tents for the boy scout troop and had them sitting by the back door for Monday night’s scout meeting. I grabbed the tents and left for Sunday School. Executive decision, we were going to have Sunday School – OUTSIDE.
Gathering the class, they helped me unload the tents. The kids were so excited to be outside, DOING something. We pitched tents, and laughed together. At one point, I recall 5-8 church ladies hanging out of the window, gawking. I waved. I asked all the children to turn around and wave. We were trolling them before trolling was cool. One can only imagine what they were saying, “What the hell is Daughn doing now?”, or something along those lines. Of course, they had to keep their own students away from the windows, inside, in prison.
My lesson that day was on self-reliance. We all got settled into our tents and munched on snacks from the B&B. We arranged the tents so our door flaps were open to the center and I could talk to and see everyone. I asked them if they ever prayed before a big test at school, and asked God for help, or to get an “A”. They all nodded, of course they asked for help from God. I then asked them if they ever prayed for a good grade when they knew they hadn’t studied as well as they should have. The kids stared at the ground and hesitated. I told the joke about the man in a flood, who prayed for God to save him. A car passed and the driver stopped to offer assistance. A boat passed, and the captain offered help. Yet, the man said no, as he was waiting on God. As the flood waters rose and the man was drowning, he lashed out at God, “Why have you forsaken me?”. God replied, “Are you kidding, I sent you a boat and a car!”
Moral of the story = the kids had the tools to get good grades on their own. Count on yourself and don’t bother the “big guy” because you haven’t done your job. I likened the story to being able to pitch their own tent, instead of mom or dad doing it for them. Now, they knew how to do it, so they would never be cold or wet, again.
At the end of class, the kids were helping me fold up the tents. Three older ladies came out to yell at me because we “trampled the grass with our tents”. My reply, “I thought we were in the job of raising children…..not grass.”
The church bells rang, and the kids were off for a session on the playground before church. We had a 30 minute break in between Sunday school and the service. I headed up a small enclosed staircase, to drop off materials when I noticed a younger woman sitting on the back steps, sobbing tears, barely able to catch her breath. She was sitting on the bottom step. I recognized her but did not know her name. She was new to our church.
“Woah”, I said as I swung low to sit on the step next to her, “What’s wrong?” I had disturbed her silence. She thought she was out of the way and invisible to everyone. “It’s okay…., nothing….., nevermind…..”, she tried to choke down the emotion and compose herself. “Nahhhh….”, I replied, “I’m not buying it and I’m not leaving ’til you tell me, so you might as well unload.” Well, she did.
She, we’ll call her Brittany, looked up at me, and for a moment she studied my face, judging me, as if she was trying to decide if she could trust me or not. I shrugged my shoulders, opened my hands/arms, and said, “Get on with it. Let’s go. Spill it. I’m not leaving until you do.” I guess that worked. She burst and told me, “They locked my son in a closet.”
The accusation hit me like a wave. My hands went to my hips, defiant. I cocked my head and said, “What the hell did you say?” and “WHO locked your son in a closet?” I was stammering, sputtering, spitting, and my rage was rising as her sobs moderated. We were on a seesaw, trading emotions. She told me all the details.
Her son was autistic, 3yrs old, did not speak, and was sometimes “bad”. The teacher, whom I knew WELL, was frustrated with him disturbing the other students – read as “HER CHILDREN”. He was “scaring them”. So, she locked the boy in a closet……. and it wasn’t the first time. I came undone. I was ready to charge in, confront the teacher. Brittany begged me to stop. She didn’t want to go up against powerful members of the church and was unsure what to do. She assumed she and her husband would have to find another church —- it had happened to her before. “What????!!!!!”, I was out of my mind, angry. She said, “He’s on the playground now, he’s okay for right now.” I peered around the corner, sure enough, her son was happy and playing – oblivious and innocent.
One of my worst faults is to charge in, without surveying the field. I recalled my dad’s wisdom, “plot and plan”. I grabbed her arm and said, “Come with me, we’re going home to smoke and think about what to do.”
I live around the corner from the church. We hit our back kitchen door at about 120mph, and lit cigarettes in the kitchen, blowing smoke up the vent. We drank iced tea and fixed her makeup. By the time we were done smoking, she was laughing. We were bonded. She became a girlfriend in those 15 minutes. We hatched a plan.
Because she was young, new, and not of a founding family, the elder ladies were intimidating her. They had no such hold over me, and besides, they were in-the-wrong and extraordinarily “un-christian”. The woman who locked Brittany’s son in a closet was a stone-cold bi$ch. I knew her well and we had tangled before. She was the daughter-in-law of a prominent family and a school teacher (locking an autistic kid in a closet – are you kidding me?). My grandparents and her in-laws started the Repub club. They played bridge together. We belonged to the same country club. In fact, our families STARTED and funded the country club in the 60’s. She would NEVER challenge me. Yet, Brittany was afraid of direct confrontation and thought about changing churches. “Leaving us???” I was mortified. Nononono, that was unacceptable to me. Fear of confrontation does not exist in my bloodstream, but I made a deal with Brittany, if our plan did not work, I understood her decision to leave our congregation for another one with more compassion.
In church, various families have their own pews. No one sits on the first pew – too awkward. My family usually sits halfway down on right side. The bi$ch’s family usually sits third row, right side. So, Brittany and I decided to sit in the front row, right side, directly in front of Bi$ch, facing the minister. We walked in at the last minute and marched right down front. Of course, everyone was curious as to what I was doing in the front row. The minister looked at me and he knew something was going on….. I nodded to indicate, “it’s okay.”
We sang loudly. Heck, we sang loud enough to compete with the choir. We sang so loudly even GOD could hear us sing. And we chuckled about it, too. I checked over my shoulder. The bi$ch on the third row was squirming. Tension was building.
After the sermon, about halfway through the service, the minister does a 5 minute segment, children’s time, and brings in the kids from the playground. Normally, the kids then sit with parents for the second half of the service. Confused about what was happening, with us in the front row, the kids kept waving at us. At the end of the segment, the kids, all of them, crammed into the front pew with us. While the minister was speaking we kept them busy with tic-tac-toe. The boys snuggled in, and I re-tied shoes. The girls wanted to try on my rings. When we sang, we ALL sang loudly. The kids shook the rafters, singing. They knew something was different but were happy to be part of it all.
Before the benediction, there’s a point in the service where members shake hands. It’s supposed to foster ‘fellowship’ – you know – all those warm fuzzy CHRISTIAN feelings, before we depart. I was waiting for that moment….
I reached over the pew to the bi$ch, and with two hands, I yanked her across the second pew. She was bent over at the waist and gasping. I’m tall and she’s my same size, but I was pi$$ed. I leaned over slowly and whispered in her ear. I told her if she ever did it again, I would have her head on a stick. She tried to wriggle away but I held on tight. Others in church noticed, her husband noticed, but I wasn’t letting go. The kids were wide-eyed.
Continuing to whisper into the back of her head, I had to spit out her hair. I remember thinking her hairspray was as foul as her cold black soul. I demanded she formally apologize and tell the deacons, in session, AND, if she didn’t….., I would. I threatened her with everything I could think of at the moment. My version of the story would not be pretty. Finally, I let go of her and she arose, straightening herself. Then, can you believe it….., she had the nerve to glare AT ME, in an accusing manner. Doubling down, I leaned far across the second pew, into her and said, “Funny, you WOULD take the position that I’m the asshole on this issue. What you’ve done is reprehensible and would cost you your job.” I was pointing the ‘mom’ finger in her chest, poking her. Her entire family heard me.
Pausing, I flipped the switch, cold and cool, and at the top of my voice, for the entire congregation to hear, I spoke the normal salutation, “And May God Bless You Today.” I was spewing venom at her. Oh yes, everyone in church knew something was wrong.
After church, several church members approached us to ask what was going on. We all know how ‘church’ is. Sometimes, gossip is the preferred currency. I sloughed it off and told everyone it was up to the “bi$ch” to explain, and , “Maybe you should ask her…” She did apologize to Brittany, immediately, and to the deacons, formally. New procedures were instituted, two teachers in that class. Brittany was accepted unconditionally … into a church.. the way it’s supposed to be….. Right?
Brittany and I became best friends. She and her husband bought the house across the street – with help from my grandmother. Our kids grew up together and our husbands were great friends. We went on vacations together. Her autistic son spoke his first words at my house (but that is another story), and her son was my son’s best friend. I thought that’s what Christian fellowship was supposed to accomplish. You know…, walk the walk.
Frankly, it doesn’t matter if we are Christians or Martians. We should never, ever, hesitate to go out on a limb for a child. We should speak up and demand satisfaction, fairness, shaming those responsible when necessary.
Yeah, that same autistic child, who was once locked in a closet, is a good kid. He just graduated from Florida State.
And today, I found out I’m going to be a grandma, for the first time. Eldest daughter is 11 weeks pregnant. Life goes on. What could be more important than our kids?