TITLE: Warm Hearts and Sticky Fingers
By Miriam Basye-Carter
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Since they had split the kindergartners up among several teachers, my Bible School class consisted of only 6 children on a good day. I was not their teacher, only the assistant, and a good thing it was too! Children have seen enough Disney movies that, given the choice between the beautiful, young fairy princess and the old, mean ogre, they have enough sense to gravitate to the former. When I sat in the kindergarten pew in the opening ceremony for Bible School the children all moved to the next row back where the fairy princess, Miss Daisy, sat. I can't say that my feelings were all that hurt by this public rebuff, however. Instead, I reveled in the small bubble of peace and quiet that this formed around me in a sea of 300 screaming, squirming hoodlums of the future.
Don't get me wrong, it's not that I hate children. I raised three children of my own and it was the best experience of my life. I still miss their sweet hugs. The trouble is, that no matter how much I try to connect with them, other people's children are not my own. It is about the same as trying to compare a wolf in the wilds of Alaska to Fifi, my own precious pit bull. Although they have the same potential for harm or affection, Fifi understands me and wants to please me while a wolf speaks a totally different language and wants to see me dead.
One little cub--I mean child-- in particular, who introduced himself as "Mowk" stands out in my mind even to this day. Mark caught my eye from the first day of Bible School, not only because he was the only boy in my group, but because I melted whenever he turned his Cocker Spaniel eyes on me. Apparently I wasn't the only one who was entranced by his beautiful brown eyes and dimpling grin. From all the way across the auditorium little girls were calling to Mark and waving. Mark just rolled his eyes and said "Gross!"
In spite of the charm Mark held for me upon our introduction, it didn't take long for me to see that his angelic face belied his true character. He was built like a tank and he knew how to use it. It reminded me of the old joke, "Where does a 2,000 lb. gorilla sleep?--Anywhere he likes!"
While the five little girls sat listening with rapt attention to the story that Miss Daisy told Mark wandered around the room touching everything. While the rest of the class sang a song Mark stood on his head kicking his tennys in the air. While the other children tried to recite their Bible verse, Mark tried to fold himself up into a folding chair, "Just for fun."
By the end of the first evening I was growing very tired of calling, "Mark! Please come and sit down." or "Mark, put Shelly down and come and sit by me." However, he would usually obey after I asked him a couple times.
At the end of the story, Miss Daisy asked the children, "Can anyone tell me what our story was about today?"
Ten pairs of feminine eyes looked back at her blankly.
"J-Jesus?" faltered fair-haired Chelsea.
From the back of the room Mark piped up. He didn't even look around from the poster that he was attempting to flail off of the wall with a cat-o-nine-tails that he had improvised from his own shoe laces.
"The story was about Jesus, and Owvin."
"Owvin?" Miss Daisy asked, "I'm sure it wasn't Owvin."
"Theodore?" Mark guessed.
At first I thought Mark was trying to be funny, then it dawned on me. "No, Mark, it was the other chipmunk."
"Simon!" Mark yelled.
"That's right, it was Simon," said Miss Daisy, "and what did Simon and Jesus do?"
Again, the girls were silent, staring with wide eyes. I wondered which universe their brains were in.
Mark, pretending to box with the figure of Jesus on the poster, answered, "Jesus gave Simon a nick name, that was Petew, then Petew went out in a boat with Theodore and Owvin and a storm came and they saw this man walking on the watew and they thought it was a ghost and then, and then Petew said, 'Hey guys, it's Jesus!' and he said, 'That's a cool twick I want to walk on the watew too!' and Jesus said, 'Come on, then!' and then Petew jumped out of the boat and walked wight on top of the watew! But then, um, Petew, he started looking awound at the watew and he got scared and he started to go down into the water and dwown and he said, 'Hey, Jesus! Help me! I'm dwowning!' and Jesus, he weached down and pulled him up and saved him."
Miss Daisy and I stared in amazement! I would have thought that he hadn't heard a word she said, but he was apparently the only one who had!
"Very good, Mark!" I said, "Now please come and sit down!" Of course he paid about as much attention to me as he did to the air conditioning that was blowing from the vents above his head.
"Now it's time for us to pray," said Miss Daisy, "Would anyone like to pray out loud for us?" All of the hands shot up. "Okay, Chelsea, why don't you pray for us?"
All of the children bowed their heads--even Mark. Silence drew on and on as we waited for Chelsea to begin.
"She won't pray!" said Shelly.
"I will, I will!" It was Mark, of course, waving his hand over his head like a helicopter blade.
"Okay, you can pray for us." Miss Daisy conceded.
Another substantial silence followed but eventually Mark spoke, "Deaw Jesus, Thank you for our sins...Amen."
Miss Daisy and I looked at each other dubiously.
"Thank you, Mark." Miss Daisy finally said.
It was now the third day of Bible School. I was starting to regret the empty nest syndrome that had caused me to volunteer for this position. Each night Mark seemed to get more and more difficult for me to handle. Tonight he was obsessed with being a soldier, like his dad. Everyone in the class had been “shot” by him at least 50 times. We could hardly even hear Miss Daisy’s story for the “hand grenades” that Mark was lobbing at us.
We were outside of the door to the music room waiting for the previous class to come out. Suddenly Mark yelled, “Let’s go outside and play!” and before we knew what was coming, he made a break for it. As he barreled toward the exit I was in hot pursuit, my only thought being to protect the innocent citizens of our town from this loose cannon.
“Hold it right there!” I gasped, catching him by the shoulder just inside the door, but even as I turned him away from it I could tell that he had no intention of giving in. I could also tell that if it came to a physical wrestling match with this hefty bruiser I might come out the worse, or at least very embarrassed.
Wrapping both my arms around him from behind I (hopefully) appeared to be giving him an affectionate hug. I bent to his ear and said quietly between clenched teeth, “Now Mark, would a real soldier break ranks and run off from his position?” His only response was to stiffen his back and try to jerk his shoulders free. “I don’t want to have to put you in the brig, but I will if you don’t get back in that line immediately!”
This time he did jerk free.
“Awright!” he snapped resentfully, “I’m going, I’m going!” He glared at me as he rejoined the girls.
“Uh, oh,” I thought, “Now I’ve made an enemy of him! He will make every moment of this week a misery for me now.” I heartily wished that I could just stay home for the rest of the week but I was committed.
Discouraged, I took my place as the “caboose” on our train and we filed into the music class. Suddenly I became aware of a comforting, sticky hand slipping into mine. I was surprised when I looked down to find that it was Mark!
“Weird kid.” I said, ruffling his curly hair.
“You’re weird!” he retorted with angelic, grin.
“Put those dimples away and go sing!” I said, prodding him into the music class.
At the end of the day we once again gathered in our circle to pray.
“How about if we each take a turn praying out loud today?” Miss Daisy asked. “Mark, would you start by praying for us?”
The girls looked disappointed, but settle down quickly with heads bowed, waiting for Mark to say something. As usual, a long silence followed, Miss Daisy and I waited curiously, then Mark, with hands clasped tightly in front of his face, began, “Dear Jesus….Thank you for….dying on the cross for our sins…and I hope…I hope you have a very good day in heaven….Amen!”
With one eye I peeked at Mark to find him peeking at me. Smiling, I gave him the thumbs up sign, and Mark dimpled. I couldn’t wait to see what he would say tomorrow.
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