They released me from Primary, and people keep congratulating me on “graduating” and “coming back to adult church.” I don’t feel like being congratulated. I’m sad.
People say I was in there a long time, and I say, “Not so long. Only three years.” And they’re like, “Only three years?” Well, considering I was content to stay there the rest of my life, yes, three years doesn’t seem like a very long time at all.
It’s funny—hilarious, really, if you know me—that I should be speaking this way. Three years ago they called me to replace the gentleman who had team-taught Primary with Brother J (as part of the church’s No Man Left Behind program) and was now in a different ward, thanks to a boundary reorganization. The bishopric member who extended the call said something like, “What do you think about that idea?” and I said I didn’t like the idea at all. It was the first time I had ever told anyone I’d have to think about a calling and get back to them.
Actually, my initial reaction was “I don’t have to think about this: No way!” It wasn’t that I didn’t want to be in Primary. I’d served in Primary before. I liked Primary. I just didn’t like teaching. I’d served as a teacher before; it was disastrous. I’ll spare you the details; suffice it to say that children can be cruel. But it wasn’t so much that I was unwilling to be a Primary teacher. I may have been reluctantly willing, but when half the callings in a ward are Primary callings, willingness is an either/or thing; it isn’t judged by degrees. I was willing to be a Primary teacher, if I had to be, because someone had to be (well, technically, a few dozen people needed to be) and even if I were only serving as a warm body/half-assed babysitter, I was willing to do that much. I wasn’t willing to serve alongside my husband, who was (is) a fantastic teacher. (He pooh-poohs this characterization, but he is either really good at faking modesty or he doesn’t appreciate his own talent. Either way, I’m right and he’s wrong.) People, including children, love Brother J. People, especially children, are not nearly as fond of me. I could handle being disliked by children (I was used to it); I couldn’t handle being disliked in the same room as the man the children loved.
I explained this to the bishopric guy, and he was quite taken aback by my response (as was my husband, when I related the story to him). He asked if I’d be willing to teach a class on my own (this was where my reluctant willingness kicked in) and then he said he’d talk things over with the Primary President, who, he said, had felt “strongly impressed” that I should be in Primary. Of course she was, I thought. Half her staff has been annexed by another ward. I’d be “strongly impressed” under those conditions too. Well. I fretted and (metaphorically) wrung my hands, but in the end I was persuaded that teaching with my husband wouldn’t be the worst possible thing that could happen to me. In other words, guilt won out and so I found myself team-teaching CTR 6 with Brother J.
When January rolled around, they promoted us to Valiant 10. I was surprised by how much more I enjoyed teaching senior Primary than junior Primary, since heretofore I had considered senior Primary the middle school of church. Children that age shouldn’t be allowed to organize in groups. They’re too old to manipulate and too young to punch in the face. Anyway, as I said, I was surprised. Teaching Valiant 10 was great fun. In December, when the Primary president was assessing her teachers’ sanity levels, I told her Brother J and I would be delighted to stay in senior Primary.
Unfortunately, another fate lay in store for Brother J, who at that point had been serving in Primary for five years. (Now that’s a long time.) He was called to Sunday School, and suddenly I was in Primary on my own. I didn’t think it would be so bad. I’d been teaching Primary for a year and a half, and while I wouldn’t have called myself a good teacher by any stretch of the imagination, I was by now a reasonably confident teacher, i.e. confident that I could manage to keep half a dozen pre-teens off the streets for an hour each week. In retrospect I may have been a little cocky. It’s hard when the charismatic half of a partnership leaves and all that’s left is the warm body. Kids tend to notice these things. True, it was a different group of kids—eight-year-olds this time—but most of them had had Brother J as a teacher before and were disappointed that he wasn’t going to be part of the package deal anymore.
So we had kind of a rough beginning. Actually, it never really stopped being rough. I just got used to the roughness. I learned to channel that energy in the same way one herds cats. I learned that rather than sitting in a chair and getting on the kids’ level, I should conduct class on my feet—not to assert my authority over the children (that wouldn’t have fooled anyone) but to keep them unsettled, give them the impression that at any moment I might actually do something. The important thing was to keep moving; otherwise, I’d be the only one sitting still. Teaching Primary was much less like confronting a wild bear than navigating a busy freeway. I had to keep up with the flow of traffic.
Despite the fact that they were incredibly unruly and I lived in fear that the Primary presidency member roaming the halls was going to look in the window and discover that the inmates were running the asylum (“Sister R is out there! Be quiet or she’ll fire me!”), I…oh, how to put this without betraying my cool exterior? I grew inordinately fond of my Valiant 8s, just as I’d gotten overly attached to my Valiant 10s the year before. I can’t tell you how many times in my church-going career I had heard people bear testimony of how much they loved serving in Primary and how much they loved all the kids. I always thought that was just something people said because they were overcome with the spirit or something. They couldn’t possibly mean it literally. But no, I decided that I was wrong because here I was loving Primary and preparing to make it my lifelong home, and I did love all of my kids. If I were a different sort of woman, I would have gathered them all in a big group hug every week, even after they’d spent the last hour building a fort out of the table and chairs and launching various projectiles at each other, because they were my kids, the little turkeys, and I loved them even if they didn’t love me back.
So when the Bishop told me they were releasing me, I was actually very disappointed that I wouldn’t even get to finish out the year with my class. In fact, I was getting released immediately so I could serve as the Relief Society pianist. (Talk about anti-climax. Not to mention that I was now going to have to attend Sunday School, which was a mega-bummer.) The bishop made a point of saying that he knew this new calling was our Heavenly Father’s will. He seemed so sincere, I thought, “Good grief, God really doesn’t want me teaching Primary. I must be killing their little testimonies!” But later I rationalized that the Relief Society probably really needed a piano player. I asked the Primary president if she needed me to teach one more week, but she said no, it was all taken care of, but I should feel free to poke my head in on Sunday and say goodbye to the kids if I wanted to.
I mean, if I’d known my last week was going to be my last week, I would have done things a little differently. Brought some Starbursts, at the very least. (Kids like Starbursts.)
So that Sunday during sacrament meeting, they officially released me. There was no audible outpouring of sorrow to match my own melancholy. At the beginning of second hour, I walked down to the Primary room and handed in my manual. Across the hall was my old (!) classroom, and I debated within myself—do I poke my head in and say goodbye? What do I say? “So long, suckers, you won’t have Sister J to kick around anymore”? I’ve never been good in social situations. I didn’t want to interrupt if the teacher had already started class, so I discreetly peeked in the window to see if everyone was sitting down (on chairs) and behaving themselves, and from what I could see, they were. (Someday you real Primary teachers should tell me how you do it.) One of the kids turned her head toward the door just then and saw me, and I saw that she saw me, so I gave a little wave. Her face lit up and she waved back.
That was the moment when I should have poked my head in and said goodbye, but I didn’t. I just turned and walked the other way to Sunday School because, gentle readers, it was the first time in my life I had ever seen a child’s face light up when they saw me, and I didn’t think it could get any better than that.
Also, I was afraid I would cry like a ninny. Kids don’t understand when adults do crap like that.
I won’t lie to you, brothers and sisters. My adjustment to “adult church” has been difficult. I thought I’d found Sunday School dull before. Now it is positively crazy-making. It’s much too quiet. Everyone just sits there and listens and/or makes appropriate comments pertaining to the subject of the lesson. No one builds chair forts or tries to climb out the window or sees who can jump up and touch the light fixture or talks about the birthday party they went to the day before. No one throws shoes or compares scars. The teacher never has to raise his voice—how am I supposed to know when he’s saying something important? I’m used to a lot more action during this hour. Now I don’t even know what to do with myself.
The worst part is I might actually have to start reading the Doctrine and Covenants.