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Helping? Hurting? Both?

Since moving to Texas we’ve been
“church shopping” on Sundays – going to a
different church every week as we try to find our new parish home.
We’re enjoying seeing the different types of churches out
there, but it also means Maddie is in a new environment every week.
How’s she handling it?

It’s a bit mixed.

Now keep in mind that Madeleine loves
going to church in New York; church, to her, is a time to see all
her friends, play in the nursery, and sing some great songs while
watching her daddy rock with the band. So every time we head out,
Maddie’s excited and chatters in the car, speculating on new
friends she might meet and what toys will be in the new nursery.

Our first Sunday was at a small, informal parish that was clearly
relaxed and kid-friendly. I spent most of the time in the nursery
with Maddie, and except for a small run-in with another girl and a
disputed stack of blocks, all went well.

The second Sunday we experienced our first southern mega-church,
and the nursery was a whole different thing. Maddie was sorted into
a room of perhaps ten kids within six months of her birthday, all
running around and playing. The nursery workers politely but firmly
declined to let me come in with my child, saying it worked better
without parent intervention. I explained Maddie’d been
through a lot of change recently and I’d like to stick around
for an adjustment period, but was refused. So I had to content
myself with leaving verbal and written instructions on the whole
Silky thing (“This is her lovey, it’s called Silky,
here’s where I’m leaving it”) and, after being
handed a pager, was told I’d be paged if Maddie needed me.
Maddie looked a bit nervous but interested in the craft, so I left.

It’s my habit to pick Maddie back up after the sermon so we
can take communion as a family, and as the service rounded into
communion without a page from the nursery I wondered if I should
simply leave her. But my mommy radar went off, and I headed over to
check on her.

As I entered the building I heard Maddie’s screams from the
other end. My heart pounding, I came around the corner and saw her
sitting at a table, well into the breathless hiccup-crying phase,
saying over and over again, “I want Silky! I want
Silky!” A nursery worker was kneeling in front of her saying
in frustration, “I don’t understand what you’re
saying. Stop crying and tell me what you want!”

In full mama-bear mode, I yelled across the child-gate,
“She’s saying she wants Silky, and it’s right
there where I showed you! It’s in the notes you MADE me write
out!” Maddie looked up at the sound of my voice and the
relief on her face broke my heart. Hurtling herself into my arms
she said, “Mommy, can we please go?” I returned their
(mysteriously unused) pager to them and walked away, trembling in

Our next stop was another mega-church, but with a much more
organized nursery program. They didn’t usually allow parents
in the nursery but let me stay until Maddie was comfortable, which
I appreciated. Before I left I said to Maddie, “I’m
going to go to the service – is that ok with you?” When
she nodded I continued, “If you need me at all, just ask
these ladies and they’ll get me and I’ll come, ok? I
promise. I’ll come right away if you need me.” I again
got a pager, and again it didn’t go off. When I went back to
pick Maddie up afterwards I asked the nursery worker how it went.
“Well, she did cry and said she wanted you several times, but
we got her distracted and she calmed down. She’s had a good
time since then.”

And that’s where I wasn’t sure what I felt.

On the one hand, I know Maddie needs to learn to work through
things on her own, and appreciate the workers trying to give me
time in the service and handle it on their own. On the other hand,
I’d made a promise to my kid that if she asked for me
I’d come, and I let her down. I decided the fault was mine,
since I hadn’t made my preference known to the workers
– and since accepting the blame gives me much more potential
for Mommy Guilt.

Before I got myself all worked up over it, I thought I’d get
Maddie’s version of the morning; if it was no big deal,
I’d know what her new tolerance level was.

“Did you have fun?”

“Mm-hmm. Yes. For a little bit. But I cried, and asked for
you, and you didn’t come.”

Ok, we’re going with the guilt option.

By themselves, these incidents are not very large – in the
first church, in fact, Maddie grew from her interaction with the
other little girl. But together, they show a toddler who’s
going through a lot of change and meeting a lot of strangers all at
once. And it’s starting to wear on her.

That same Sunday, I walked into Maddie’s room after her nap.
She sat up in bed and said happily, “Mommy! I didn’t
lose you!” “What do you mean, puppy?” I asked.
“I dreamt I was in the nursery and I lost you and
couldn’t find you.” Ouch.

And for the past week or so, Maddie’s developed a bit of a
nervous tic: she’s got a habit of tapping her thumb and
fingers together on one hand, as if she’s dusting off her
fingers or rubbing a stone between them. I haven’t wanted to
make a big deal out of it so I haven’t brought it up; the
best I can guess is it’s an anxiousness, and perhaps
she’s rubbing an imaginary Silky between her fingers.

Maddie’s always tended towards anxious, and will always, I
fear, be a worrier, but I don’t want this process to add
another layer to that. So I wrestle with where the line is for me
and my child: I want to help her become independent, less fearful,
able to enter any situation; but I don’t want to hurt her and
permanently change who she is by pushing her past her limits.
Outside her comfort zone, ok; past her limits, no.

And believe me, I understand how fortunate I am to be able to
wrestle with this issue. Many working moms don’t have the
choice and must do the best they can as they leave their children
daily. And children in day care are often better equipped for
school, able to handle new situations and changes better than those
who stay home with Mom all day.

I’m not saying I won’t ever leave Maddie; she was
comfortable at our New York church and I left her in that nursery
every week. But I do feel a need to slow down on how far
we’re pushing her right now. The new house, the loss of her
friends and familiar routines, are all, I suspect hitting her
harder than it shows. I don’t want to become one of those
mommies who is constantly hovering over her toddler, anxiously
waiting one step behind to anticipate Little Darlin’s needs,
but I want to protect my cub. I imagine being a toddler in new
situations is a bit like being a tourist in a foreign country and
not being able to speak the language; trying to make yourself
understood, trying to get your needs across, becomes increasingly
stressful, and when someone shows up who speaks your language
(Mommy!) your relief is palpable. Someone who gets you, who
understands your every gesture, your every lispy sentence! Someone
who can advocate for you! Someone who can make sense of this crazy

So we’ll keep trying new churches, and I’ll keep
letting Maddie test out the nurseries. But I won’t let them
push me out the door before Maddie is ready for me to go, and
I’ll make it clear that they should get me sooner rather than

And mama bear will be lurking just below the surface, ready to
protect her cub.


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