There is a special kind of isolation that happens with parenthood, especially for mothers. We are barely recovering from the cosmically un-private event of childbirth when the dial reverses. We scrape together our wits enough to go out in public, and a thoughtful friend ushers us into "this quiet room back here, where you can nurse in private." We might welcome the room--I personally can remember plunging my whole head under the blanket when I had company over, and was still trying to get the hang of the latch-on. But needed or not, we cannot help but notice that all of the conversation is happening without us.
Thus it begins. The constant stream of infant needs leaves us overstressed and overtired, and if we get any free time, we nod off rather than picking up the phone. This is parenthood. And it's more isolating than I expected.
Of course, the children grow. As the bag of needed battle-gear shrinks, the child's mobility grows to compensate. Now stranger-anxiety plays an odd dance with toddler independence, and the lovely people who were willing to hold the baby for us (invariably in cold and flu season) can't even do that for us. As they start to sleep more regularly, we might not be tired zombies anymore, but now we are shackled to bedtimes.*
And then there's church. Church, of course, is no exception. I once read the opinion of a nameless stuffy man who insisted that church wasn't manly enough because it was "suited to the needs of women and children." I will not tell you how long I laughed when I read it. This man has obviously never taken small children to a church. It's not just the joy of trying to convince a 3-year-old that he is not, in fact, whispering, or juggling three plates in the potluck line. There is also the fact that church may be the most isolated part of our week.
We start in the little Beginner Sabbath School, where we actually see some other parents in the same situation. We try to get in a little adult conversation, but not much, since it distracts the kids from their butterfly felts.
From there we head to the worship service, where we often land in the parents' room, not hearing the service because we're too busy tending our kids. I remember very well the feeling of being trapped. Outside, in the church, were my friends, but I might not even see them in the melee of fixing emergencies and answering kid questions. There, just out of reach beyond the (decidedly not-sound-proof) window was the adult world--I could see it, but it was out of reach.
The parents' room is like the "quiet back room to nurse in," only it's been institutionalized. We get to spend years of our lives in this room. Sometimes we have other parents with us, depending on how big the church is. We can be quarantined together, and compare notes on our conditions. We talk sometimes, and that's good. Except that it guarantees we won't hear any of the service at all.
I don't regret the parents' room. There would have been chunks of my life where I would not have come to church at all if that room wasn't there. Because of the parents' room, I got to do two things: 1. Talk to people between services and afterward, reassuring myself that I am part of the community, and 2. Maintain the habit of getting dressed and going to church once a week, keeping a place reserved in my schedule for when the kids are older, and I can participate again.
Today's blog is dedicated to all of you parents, quarantined to the parents' room. To you who get up on Sabbath mornings and dress in nice clothes which no one will see, who could show up to church without a Bible, but had better not forget the snacks. To all of you who haven't heard a sermon or participated in a song service uninterrupted for longer than you can remember. To all of you in the holding tank, sequestered, and put aside, I want to honor you today.
Not everyone makes this choice. I have no blame for the parents who decide to skip this chore. It's reasonable, given the realities, to stay home. But that fact gives me all the more admiration for the parents who go.
You are important. And you are making a difference. As little as it feels that you participate in church, still the church depends on you for its very life. If we don't keep this place reserved for church life in our families, if we don't pass this priority to our children, there is no church. This is the least-glorified, and (let's face it, evangelists) the most labor-intense form of evangelism.
On this Sabbath eve, as you take a breath from your busy week, and think about whether you can pull yourself out of bed tomorrow, I want you to know I see you. I'm with you. To all of you keeping vigil, waiting out your quarantine, hold on. Persist. In a thousand parents' rooms around the globe, you are not alone. The Fellowship of the Parents' Room is with you. We know. We're there. And we'll see you on the other side.
*I confess that I have mixed feelings about all of this. Before kids, I would have called myself an extrovert, and chosen to be out with friends whenever I had the chance. After kids, confined to the house at night, I've gotten in touch with my inner homebody. Sometimes bedtime is a burden, but just as often, it's a handy excuse. The advent of Netflix may have something to do with the change.