My brother and I were Catholic school kids. What that meant for us was that we definitely would learn to read (taking religion using a King James Bible in kindergarten sort of guaranteed comprehension skills). It also meant that we could string a paragraph together without help because those single, old ladies staffing those classrooms insisted that we go up to that dusty chalk board and diagram sentences. I can remember Ms. Cahill say to my third grade self, “Is that used adjectivally or not, Marilyn?” And I actually knew what she was talking about, too!
It was tough sometimes, though. I had to wear those ugly burgundy plaid uniforms with the thick, itchy white sweater tights. Those things were murder on my legs, leaving the pattern etched into my skin in some weird allergic reaction that resulted in constant oatmeal and Aveeno baths. And Catholic school ruined my relationships at church as well. My Sunday school teacher always thought I was a smart aleck because I knew the answers to every question she would ask, totally negating her Biblical authority in front of the rest of the class, and when I realized that my hour-long classes five days a week at school were turning me into a Sunday school nerd, thereby making me a social outcast amongst my peers, I stopped trying to answer questions, which really ticked her off because then the class was totally silent. I had already proven that I had some knowledge, so my co-Sunday schoolers weren’t inclined to associate with me pleasantly. I had begged my mom to disallow my attendance, but she didn’t budge, and I was forced to suffer through social ostracization in a place where everybody is supposed to love everybody else.
My one solace at church was my brother. He, unlike me, was cute as a child, so he could be knowledgeable without social backlash. Because we were different ages, we had separate classes, and at 10 AM, when the Sunday schooling was over, and we could partake in the doughnuts and juice unashamedly before service, my brother would head over to me, ignoring the swooning girls to talk with me. I loved and admired him for that. We would go upstairs and sit with the congregation, not as part of the children’s choir or the junior usher board. Those kids were not very nice to me, and my brother refused to be a part of anything that contained a throng of people dedicated to collectively and openly disliking his sister.
It didn’t stop when I was a child, though. I remember being steps from my high school graduation, and not receiving a church scholarship like all of the rest of the kids. Somehow, the year I graduated, the rules changed, and my mere membership and attendance every Sunday weren’t enough to warrant the $100 gift from the congregation. I knew that amount of money wouldn’t go far, but it still hurt my feelings. And when the pastor’s daughter accosted me with some really nasty words when I visited home from college one long ago Sunday, I vowed never to return. The years of emotional torment soured me on church for a long time.
Now, many years later and a member of a church I love, I have that same trepidation I had as a child. My pastor has reinstated Sunday school at our church, which has not been in existence since I’ve been a member, and I’m so afraid for my kids. It’s silly, right? But I’m really nervous about it. I don’t want them to hurt like I did. I don’t want them to dread going to the church basement like I did. I don’t want them to feel like they are inadequate like I did.
Then again, I remember my mom, who so believed in the power of knowing God for oneself and forcing me Sunday after Sunday to persevere in the face of adversity, and I know that despite all of that hurt, she did the right thing by me. I didn’t understand it then, but I do now, and I don’t want my kids to be so sheltered that when they really do face nastiness, whether at church or otherwise, they don’t know how to handle it.
Then, I remember my brother, who refused to associate himself with anything or anybody who made my life hell, and I know that those same genes are sitting inside my girls. These are the same girls who fight like cats and dogs at home, but run to each other after school and embrace and kiss, literally rolling around on the ground for several seconds, professing how much they’ve missed each other for the few hours they’ve been separated. These are the same kids who insist that I comb their hair the same way and allow them to sleep in the same bed so that they can talk about whatever a three and a four year old talk about until they fall asleep. These are the same girls who tattle on each other, but unite against me when I discipline the offender. Their relationship is a 21st century version of the one my brother and I had, and I realize that they’ll be fine.
Still, though, I can’t help but wish my brother were walking in with me tomorrow morning. Wish us luck!