Today at church was somewhat unsatisfying for several reasons, most of which I will not go into.
Sandwiched between Frustrating Forum and Missed Meeting was about an hour and a half as a nursery volunteer. I once told the Director of Religious Education that I had "totsophobia," because while I do not dislike children at all, I feel very awkward around them. The only kid I ever felt completely at ease with was my own. Those years went by much too quickly and did absolutely nothing to help me relax around anyone else's kids. The problem has nothing whatsoever to do with the fear that a child will hurt me, it's the fear that I will fail in some way to properly care for someone else's little one. The responsibility scares the daylights out of me. I will never hold anyone's baby, at least if the baby is too young to crawl. For one thing, I've never gotten the hang of that casual manner that most mothers seem to instinctively know when it comes to holding a baby. I always held my son something like the way I hold my cat -- with his little head tucked right up under my chin. He never seemed to mind it, but it must look really strange. And of course, I worry that I will drop the baby.
But -- I'm all too aware of a chronic problem in our church: People don't volunteer, especially with kids' classes. This generally shocks me: I figure 1) I'm the only person in the church who would rather not be around kids and 2) not only does everyone else like to interact with kids, the parents love nothing better. Well, it turns out that the parents want to do something adult-oriented for an hour or two on Sunday, which is not the least bit unreasonable. The problem is, the non-parents want the same thing. Which means, in short, that it takes very little to leave the kids high and dry when someone isn't making sure that the classes are adequately staffed. So today I was asked to help out in the nursery.
Today's nursery census was the regular nanny, five little folks, and me. I knew three of the kids well, since I work fairly closely with their parents. The smallest came last, spent a few minutes crying after Daddy left her with us, but then settled down and did the usual things that a child with a pacifier is wont to do. The last child, a boy, was slightly older than the rest, probably about the age of starting kindergarten in the fall.
Margaret, the nursery nanny, hails from the same neighborhood as the iconic umbrella-bearing lady pictured above. Her ethnicity and her occupation are where the similarities end. Within five minutes, I heard her assessment of the children. She liked the girls and little Henry, the toddler boy, but did not like the older boy, Richard. "He's an only child," she said, in a disapproving tone, "so he doesn't know anything about playing with others or sharing." I didn't especially appreciate that -- as an only child myself, I remember quite vividly how teachers often characterized me as spoiled and selfish with little more to go on than my non-sibling status. Margaret either ignored Richard or confined the conversation to words such as "No," or "Stop." When she used his name, it was never followed by anything especially good. Richard did seem to prefer independent play, though he showed me the pretend breakfast he'd put together, and let me listen to his heart with a toy stethoscope.
Toward the end of the session, little Henry climbed on a low stepstool and Richard decided to remove him by seizing him around the waist. Both boys went down in a heap, with Henry uninjured but making a significant racket. This seemed to confirm Margaret's opinion of Richard. While she ran to comfort Henry, she instructed me to take Richard and "put him in time-out." But Richard was every bit as upset as Henry, if not more so. He cried and wailed and his hands fluttered like little wings, so instead of putting him in time-out, I patted his shoulders, told him I knew he felt bad, but that Henry was all right. He calmed down just before his mother (and Henry's) arrived.
After everyone had left, Margaret gave me the sign-in book and told me to log my hours. "What time did you arrive?" she asked. I told her eleven o'clock, since I'd been in the discussion forum from 9:30 until just before 11:00. "Put down 10:30," she said "and they'll pay you for two hours." I didn't argue, just signed my name and was done with it. I have no expectation of being paid -- I'm a volunteer -- but she knew perfectly well I didn't work two full hours. Her willingness to fudge on time, even though she probably thought she was doing me a favor, added to my overall negative impression of her.
The realization that I could, perhaps, do as good a job as a paid nursery nanny, if not a better one, came as something of a shock. It's given me a fresh perspective on the whole issue of childcare, both in our modest-sized church and everywhere else.