As I mentioned in my bio (scroll down to #8), I’m presently serving in the nursery at church. I actually just started a month or so ago, so I’ve only been a couple of times. Two Sundays ago, I had an experience that reminded me of one of the things I look forward to about being a father.
I’m the only man serving in my particular rotation; the other two workers are women. On this particular Sunday, there was a little girl, Brooke, who was not a happy camper. She wasn’t in full-on hysterics, but she was more in low-voltage crying mode: she was being held by one of the nursery workers, but she clearly wanted Mommy. (I’m always a bit bemused at kids who don’t want to go to nursery – “DON’T MAKE ME GO TO THAT HORRIBLE PLACE WHERE THEY MAKE ME PLAY WITH TOYS” – but anyway.)
At a certain point, I picked her up for some reason, probably to keep her from being trampled by one of the other kids. When I tried to put her back down, she wasn’t having it – she clung to me, clearly resistant to being put back down.
Er, okay then. I pulled up one of the toddler-sized chairs, sat on it and put her on my lap. She seemed to like that. So I got a multisided interactive toy – has gears that click when turned, different shaped blocks that fit into different holes, a mirror, etc. – and we started playing with it.
I showed her how to turn the gears. She liked that. She stared at her reflection in the mirror – put her face all the way against it, just goofing. One of the sisters was kind enough to find some of the blocks that went with it, and she started figuring out where they went.
After a few minutes of this, she settled down, the tears went away. At first I reached into the toy to get the blocks out so she could have another turn, but after a few rounds she wanted to get the blocks out. I was happy to oblige, so I held the toy on her level so she could reach them. She became quite pleased with herself, celebrating whenever she successfully put a block in the right hole.
The sisters said, “Brother Boots, she likes you! Okay – don’t move. She’s happy…just stay there.” And we did – there we remained, Brooke perched on my lap, playing with that toy. We didn’t budge from that chair for a solid 20 minutes. It became apparent that she didn’t want Mommy, she wanted Daddy.
Eventually, she slid off my lap and roamed around the room with the other children. The rest of the two hours in nursery, we had the usual toddler fare: more playtime, snacks, a very brief lesson, singing time. She remained settled down, free of tears. But she checked up on me routinely. I almost felt like her secure touchpoint, like a wall bar a ballerina uses to keep her balance. Once or twice, she ran up and threw her arms around my legs: a toddler hug.
One of the sisters commented, “This is why men are needed in nursery. Some of the kids just prefer men over women.”
At the end of the church services, one of the sisters said, “Can you take Brooke to her mommy? She’s a Primary teacher. Ask a member of the Primary presidency where you can find her.”
Brooke trusted me enough to let me pick her up and carry her into the hallway, which at this point was bustling with adults and children. She was okay as we rounded a corner, but as we walked further she became fussy, clearly uncertain as to where I was taking her. “Brooke, it’s okay, I promise – we’re going to find your mommy!”
Fortunately, a few moments later, we did find Mommy’s classroom. Brooke, of course, was thrilled. I handed her over, bid Brooke farewell, and went to find Shirly so we could go home.
It’s a little experience, of course. When I go back to nursery this Sunday, there’s a good chance Brooke won’t remember me. But this brief experience reminded me of one of the blessings of fatherhood: the opportunity to be the one who introduces a child to the world, one of the people a child implicitly trusts to make sure they’re on safe ground. That, I believe, is a sacred responsibility, to hold a child’s trust.
UPDATE: I was mistaken. I went back to the nursery today, and she remembered me.
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