I enjoy the parent meetings for this sacrament, because it offers an opportunity for some honest talk, and also for the sharing of my own story. I tell them the story of my second grade year, because it puts us back in touch with the fact that young children experience life intensely, have deep questions, and have the capacity for powerful emotions. Also, they have tender consciences, and are open to spiritual things.
It feels like an odd combination, I know, but as a second grader I was painfully introverted and an extremely snotty litle pony-tailed thing. All I have to do to get in touch with both aspects of myself is to think back to the pathetic little presentation I did in Mrs. Bailey's class. My subject was "sheep"--a subject about which I knew absolutely everything, but the moment I placed my drawing on the overhead projector, all of my confidence drained into my shoes. I got through it somehow, and sat down shakily--my first experience with stage fright. I don't talk about that in our parent meetings, but I do talk about the five riveting life experiences from that year, and the two grounding spiritual ones.
Once I survived my sheep report, the world returned to normal. My parents had lived at 1816 Sandra Drive since before I was born, and Traub Elementary had been my school since the first day of kindergarten. I walked, every day, by myself, to school and back. I had free reign of the neighborhood on my bicycle and roller skates. I could talk Tommy and Karen (my playmates) into absolutely anything. And I was the Jacks Queen! But everything changed in March, when we moved to 809 East Towry Drive, and Steed Elementary became my school.
Suddenly I felt lost. What anchors that feeling of being lost in my memory is the fact that I actually did lose my way coming home from school that first day. And even though I wandered around for only about ten minutes, I know it was a while before I stopped feeling scared and disoriented. So, seven-year-olds can have pretty strong fears in regard to change.
The up side to moving was that I was assigned to Mrs. Chastain's class. She was my dream teacher in all respects---beautiful and sweet, soft-spoken and beyond kind. I had won the teacher lottery! (Mrs. Bailey was nice, but had Olive Oil features, plain round glasses and a wrinkly neck.) And I had a new friend--Guy--who sat right in front of me and announced that I was now his girlfriend.
One morning Mrs. Chastain had to leave class to take a phone call, and gave us careful instructions to remain quiet and in our seats. (All hell broke loose the moment the door closed behind her.) What I recall most clearly is that I was standing next to my desk, making faces at Guy, who had now been assigned a seat at the farthest edge of the room. When Mrs. Chastain came back, everyone dove into their seats while I remained standing, still making faces at Guy. I believe I was waving my fingers, with my thumbs in my ears. And, unfortunately, my eyes were shut! She calmly asked me to walk to her desk, and, removing a paddle from some secret place, whacked me twice, soundly on the bottom. More painful than being humiliated in front of my class was the pain of disappointing someone I admired. Second graders care deeply about the adults in their lives, and don't want to let them down.
(By the way, we didn't report Mrs. Chastain to anybody!)
About a month later, my cousin, Judy, died. It was my first experience with death. I saw how numb it made my family, and I felt helpless. I remember crying, alone in my room, and sort of looking up at the ceiling, wondering where she might be. No one really talked about it. Second graders are capable of feeling utterly isolated and bewildered.
To add to my grief, a short time after that I was terrorized and brutally abused by my uncle. He was six times my size, and decided to pick on me when my parents were out of town. There were two other adults in the house, but no one intervened. Small people can experience rage. They can lose innocence and trust. It was a while before I felt safe again, and never around him.
To top it off, the very last weekend of the school year, on Memorial Day, I got kicked by a horse! I got between a mare and her foal, and she wheeled around unexpectedly. The last thing I saw were her hooves in my face. Luckily, I realized it and turned away. So I learned in an instant that something dangerous can arrive unexpectedly. You may not have time to prepare for it, or protect yourself. And it will hurt. Second graders can be traumatized physically.
So, in our parent meetings I talk about some of this, and ask them to not underestimate their kids. I talk to them about what it means to be their child's first Confessor, a huge responsibility. And how, since it's not unusual for a young child to think the priest is actually GOD, it makes perfect sense that we should help them to have a concrete experience with GOD's forgiveness.
And, I remind them to not be surprised by their children's sensitivity to the Spirit. As a second grader, I also asked one Sunday to be baptized, something my parents could hardly comprehend at all. (Technically, we didn't really even attend church.)
And that was also the year I connected with scripture in an intimate way for the first time: Grandma had given my older brother, Mike, a small black Bible for Christmas. The pages were edged in red. One evening, I secreted it away for myself and read the words, "I will never leave you nor forsake you." I had no idea what the word "forsake" meant, but I knew that those words were somehow meant just for me. So I held onto them. When I consider the events of that year, it's hard to come up with anything more fitting.