I’m just going to come right out and say this and don’t go all holier than thou on me people, I speak the truth and I believe that’s one of the ten commandants – most moms view Vacation Bible School, in it’s purest form, as daycare. Sure, I’ll say it’s a chance for the kids to bond with the lord if that makes any of you feel better. But, at the top of the list it’s daycare, free church daycare. The churches know what they’re doing. Is VBS offered as soon as school gets out? No. It’s offered in the middle of summer. Right when most parents begin hitting the wall of summer. The big, “What are we doing for fun today?” “ I’m sick of the pool.” Can I have ten friends over?” wall of summer. (My sister-in-law this summer alone has sent her kids to seven vacation bible schools. Which says volumes about my sister-in-law. But those stories are for another time.) VBS’s placement is perfect. As soon as moms start mentally counting down the days till school starts (or buying the I phone app) VBS comes to the rescue. It’s a brief couple of hours summer respite from our kids. If VBS is in the morning than it’s three hours for a mom to get some work done. If it’s at night than it’s two hours to grab a child-free meal with your husband.
Unless, of course, you have been arm twisted, guilted into or see it as your gift to the higher power to volunteer to work at VBS. I was two out of three of those choices. So, here I am all ready to do VBS 2010 and “Saddle Up for this Ride with Jesus.” Under conditions of my “employment agreement” I was assisting with the 5-year-old group. Emphasis on assist. I was the follower not the leader. The “teacher” of our group was a delightful woman who I had volunteered with pleasurably at my children’s’ school. She was a little high-strung and very anal about everything. We had to have three, count em three, before VBS meetings at her home to go over the curriculum and the arts and crafts. I had two problems with the meetings. One – no booze. I have a long-standing rule that if you’re going to invite someone into your home after 3 p.m. on a Saturday there should be the offer of libations. Especially in the summer when the range of cocktails you can offer really opens up. I mean who can say no to a watermelon margarita and would I come to a meeting with a smile of my face if I knew there would be watermelon margaritas, why yes I would. Instead, we were offered water and Crystal Light. Secondly, the meetings were kid free and on a Saturday. (Which both suggests to me that cocktails will be served. Am I wrong about this?) The kid free thing on a Saturday is not that big of a deal. But, having a meeting on a Saturday is. Most of us have enough meetings Monday thru Friday and I, for one, like to keep my weekend meetings free if I can help it.
A hint about the strictly enforced no kids edict became clear when I went to Mrs. VBS’s house for the first meeting. Upon entering her home and walking into her foyer to the right was her living room where velvet ropes, oh yes, velvet ropes, just like the kind you see in the movie theatre, were blocking off the entrance to her living room. I, being me – incredibly curious, had to blurt out, “What’s with the ropes?” I was told it was a “special occasion” room and the ropes only came down for “memorable family events.” My reply was, “Really, those ropes work for you? Because in my house it would be a matter of my kids honor to not only go under those ropes on a daily basis, but to jump over them, take them down and catapult them at each other, and last, but not least attempt sibling strangulation by velvet rope.” (I think that last one sounds like a CSI murder technique. Can you trademark stuff like that?). Mrs. VBS smiled very sweetly at me and just said, “Well, different houses, different rules.” She’s got that right. We continue walking through the foyer and approach the world’s cleanest kitchen complete with a massive child chore, enrichment activity and summer reading chart resplendent with velcro attachments. I’ve tried the chore chart. It lasted maybe two days. I like my method of yelling while jumping up and down and threatening. While, I’m sure it’s not as effective, it is, some days, my only aerobic workout. As for the summer reading chart that was killing me, really breaking my spirit. Her girls had read loads of books and we were only half way through summer. The only reading my daughter had done all summer was People’s Magazine Justin Bieber special edition and my son, I was lucky if had read the back of the Honey Nut Cheerios box. I took another look at the summer “chart” and knew exactly what was looking back at me – a road map to the Ivy Leagues. Crap.
After being offered the no fun drink choice of water or Crystal light we got right to work on the craft projects and bible theme stories that would be the crux on the VBS experience. One of the craft projects was weaving ropes (braiding) to make a lariat so the kids could “lasso Jesus.” It was at this point in the meeting I had to speak up. Being the only mother with a male child I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that boys and ropes are never a good idea. I couldn’t even get out my list of reasons before the other moms just glossed right over my well founded objections. This, my friends is what I call the parting of the parenting Red Sea. Done not by Moses, but well-meaning moms who only have calm, studious, polite offspring with superior impulse control.
There are some lucky parents out there that have perfect children. I call them fairy tale children because they are too good to be true. Most of these fairy tale children are female. Years ago when my son was four I’ve even had a very painful break up with a much-loved friend because she was the mother of three incredible fairy tale girls. They were quiet, had impeccable manners, could sit still for longer then five minutes and didn’t size up every household item for it’s weapon or flying projectile potential. Her little girls could mutely color for hours and talk in hushed respectful tones to their mother. I knew we had to break up when my son (age 4 at the time) took his Thomas the Tank Engine train (key point here the Thomas trains have magnets on the front so the trains can hook up with one another) wrapped one of the fairy tale girls Barbie Doll’s hair around it and then attached the train with it’s magnet to a metal stand fan. The Barbie’s hair got tangled up in the fan blades, the fan went all wobbly crazy, tipped over, hit the coffee table, cracked the coffee table, sending four cups of grape juice flying off and bringing an onslaught of screams and tears. (Further proving my point about how well-behaved these girls were – What parent gives a kid grape juice in an open container? Not me. We were strictly a clear or white beverage family and I forced my son to drink from a sippy cup until about his 10th birthday) Obviously they had never witnessed the awesome powers of a boy before and the fairy tale mom was traumatized. Oh, did I mention this little accident didn’t happen at my house. I immediately go into apology mode, call a carpet cleaner, and demand that my friend let me replace her coffee table and fan. No amount was too high. I then grab my son, throw him over my pregnant with another non fairy tale child belly and we make a run for it. Two days later, I take my friend out to dinner and break it off. Her girls were too perfect, she was too good of a mother. Me and my son clearly frightened her family. We had to break up. There could be no more mommy and kids play-dates. As any mom knows once you reduce a friendship to just the two of you spending time together, forget about it. It’s the death knell in the friendship coffin. When your kids are young there are not enough hours in the day to schedule “dates” with girlfriends.
Now, I told that little story to illustrate not how lucky parents with fairy tale kids are, but to show how they can be woefully naive about what happens in the real world. This would prove to be Mrs. VBS’s achilles heel. Not only was she the mother of two perfect fairy tale girls. She is, as previously illustrated, very anal. Don’t get me wrong these kind of moms are invaluable. They are the backbone of every school’s parent organization. Without their skills the gift-wrap sale would never happen. In fact, I doubt any fundraising would happen. The PTA would never have a treasurer that got happy printing out the excel spread sheets and organization in every endeavor would be slipshod. These moms are good people and good moms. They just, in this case at least, should never volunteer to interact with other people’s children. They’re not prepared for life in the parenting trenches.
Unlucky for Mrs. VBS our class was full of rowdy boys. I knew we were going to be in for a world of hurt when I saw her outfit. It was a short skirt, a nice blouse and cute flats. Not exactly the outfit to get down and dirty in. We were surrounded by busy boys looking to lasso a whole lot of fun. The kind of fun that doesn’t come from sitting still in circle time. According to the spreadsheet schedule, posted on the wall and color coded, the first 30 minutes was free play while we wait until all the kids arrive. Then it was a 30 minute bible lesson, next was circle time, followed by arts and crafts and then a snack. Trouble began immediately when, as the boys arrived, the Battle of the Lincoln Logs ensued. Lincoln Logs, as any mom knows, are great for building, throwing, and being used as a battering ram to knock down other kids log cabins. I got down on the floor to act as a referee and corral the log throwing. Mrs. VBS was dismayed that the boys and a couple of girls would actually throw the logs at each other. Then when two boys put some Lincoln Logs down their shorts and jumped up and down until they fell out she admitted to being a little queasy. The boys thought it was hilarious and if you’re a five-year old boy I can totally get how “pooping logs” would give you a giggle fit. Mrs. VBS was aghast. Her girls she told me “would never, ever do that” and she was freaked out about the now extremely unsanitary logs. I was thinking as I the put the butt cheek soiled logs in the sink, “Well, Mrs. VBS let me wish you a warm welcome to the real world, make yourself right at home cause I’ve saved a seat for you.” After the Lincoln logs were collected and put up and it was time for the bible lesson.
Mrs VBS had no concept of the short attention span theatre that is the normal five-year old. Her bible lesson was more bible sermon and even I was getting antsy. The kids were squirming, interrupting, and then started leaving the circle en masse. I whispered to Mrs. VBS that it was time to deviate from the schedule and perhaps go to arts and crafts. This freaked her out because we would be hitting arts and crafts a whole 15 minutes early. I then gently pointed out that since there were no kids even left in the circle we might want to just call it quits, for now, on the bible lesson. The arts and crafts project, in keeping with the western theme, “Saddle Up for this Ride with Jesus” involved giving each child a straw cowboy hat to wear then three pieces of rope to make a lariat. The rope was the kind you would use to hang clothes on in your backyard (if people still did that kind of thing). Each kid was given three, 4 feet pieces of the rope so they could braid it for a cool lariat. The three pieces were already tired together so the kids could start braiding.
The first problem was 5-year-old kids can’t braid. Most of them have yet to master shoe tying. The second problem was imagine the disaster that is a non fairy tale five-year old with three pieces of rope connect at the top and the rest dangling. Hmm, what would a kid do with that rope? Would the child start swinging the ropes and causing a windmill of doom? Why yes. Would a child accidentally start whipping the rope at his closest seat-mate? Certainly. Would a rope free- for-all begin? You betcha ya. Whap, slap, whip, that was the sound of an arts and craft project going downhill. Add in kids crying as they got hit or experienced rope burn and then throw Mrs. VBS delicately screaming at the kids to “stop it, just stop it!” and it’s pretty much like you’re there. I entered the fray and started collecting up the ropes. We immediately executed plan B. I would braid the ropes while the kids drew Jesus in the desert. After the ropes were braided I was given the duty to go into the church kitchen and get the snacks while the kids were going to be taken to the sanctuary for a group prayer with all the VBS students.
Off I went to retrieve carrots, grapes, and zucchini sticks. Oh, how I longed for the cyclamate laden Kool-Aid, Twinkies and Ding Dongs that was my vacation bible school experience circa the 1970’s. As I’m carrying the tray of veggies back to our church classroom I turn the corner and my life is forever changed. There on the 10 foot stone statue of Jesus in the vestibule is the lord and savior with a straw cowboy hat on looking very Brokeback Mountain. He has also been lassoed (sort of, ropes are on him but not around him) not once but three times. Apparently, our five-year old cowboys took the lasso theme to heart. Mrs. VBS has climbed up Jesus, in her short skirt and is straddling the statue so she can get off the hat and the ropes. But, it’s not just a straddle. She is continuing to shimmy up the statue to reach the hat. It’s a shimmy, jump move. The motion makes it looks like Mrs. VBS is indeed having a “moment” with the lord. Cue, the minister with some teen and adult volunteers walking into the vestibule and witnessing this. Truly an OMG. Mrs. VBS is so intent on freeing the statue of the ropes and hat she doesn’t even grasp what it looks like until one of the teen volunteers blurts out, “Oh my God she’s doing Jesus.” The poor woman slides off of the Jesus statue, gives her skirt a very lady like tug and sobs her way into the bathroom. I hand off the veggie tray, take the kids into the sanctuary and pray. Pray feverently, that the visual of Mrs. VBS and the Jesus statue will soon be eternally wiped from my memory and that no one will ask me to help with Vacation Bible School ever again. I think that prayer will be answered.
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