(I’m Letting Go – Francesca Battistelli)
I was recently reading a book called something like Tale of Three Trees. It is a children’s book, and I didn’t make it all the way to the end because everyone lost interest because someone mentioned snack…and that’s okay, because snack is important to me too. That was what made the decision a definite no for me to not apply for the one summer camp that is both still looking for volunteers and happening at a time at which I could attend. They strictly prohibit snacks except for documented medical necessity and this girl is definitely not interested in trying to survive a camp experience without snacks, especially once you consider that camps tend to think waiting until almost lunch time for breakfast is acceptable. There was a video that circulated recently of a little girl probably 1.5-2 years old being asked what she was going to do that day and her response between mouthfuls of food was “eat, eat, eat.” That girl is after my own heart. I can’t imagine a world where I only get to eat three times a day and don’t get to decide when those times are or what is served. I have always survived camp and other travel situations by packing my own snacks in case of foods I won’t eat or just being too hungry to wait until the next snack or meal time and most camps actually include snacks in the day…just sayin’. And that wasn’t the only persnicketiness of this camp. They also require you wear bug spray, but it can’t be aerosol bug spray. And all toiletries must be packed in a clear plastic bag for inspection. Most of the time I don’t like people scripting the minutiae of my life. I very do not like bug spray. Also, I can’t even remember the last time I even saw a bug spray that wasn’t aerosol…actually I do remember, it was like 6 years ago. So yeah, I guess I will not be headed to any kind of summer camp this summer even though there are some super awesome camps out there that I really really want to volunteer with.
Anyway, I don’t know how the book ended, but guessing based on the fact that it was in the church nursery and by the fact that most children’s books are somewhat simple, don’t end sad, and have super contrived messages especially if they are trying to be Christian but not too Christian so that other people might accidentally buy the book and then be disappointed when they get home, I am guessing that the first tree that wanted to be a treasure chest became the manger that held baby Jesus, the second tree that wanted to be a massive ship became the canoe Jesus stood in while teaching or something along those lines, and the third tree that just wanted to grow tall became the cross Jesus died on…just guessing based on the part of the book I read. I only made it as far as the first tree being made for animals, and the second being at a dock, so I don’t even know for sure if the second tree was made into a boat at all and not something like a ladder or whatever…but I couldn’t stop thinking about that third tree. It just wanted to stay where it was and grow tall. That’s a lot like me. I just wanted to stay with the healthcare facility I already worked for. I wanted to stay and live out my dreams. Instead I was knocked down. That little tree bravely stood tall…umm…I had to pretend really hard to bravely stand tall when on the inside I was crumbling. The lumberjack who chopped the third tree said anything would do. I felt that way too, like “they” were right that no one would really want me and I wasn’t good enough so I could only get the job that really just needed a warm body to fill the position…so I guess this is where I am supposed to spin this positively, because that is how literature is supposed to work…even if it doesn’t seem like positive is how the world works in reality…but okay, positive…ultimately, that tree was taken from everything it knew and every dream it had. That kind of sucks and that is where I still am…but that wasn’t the end of the story for that tree (assuming my assumption of the ending is correct). God needed that tree. It wasn’t a glamorous role, but a tree was needed to create a cross for Jesus to die on so that he could take away sins so that we could have eternal life in heaven with him. Maybe if I hold on long enough, I will find there is some important reason God put me here not because it is good for me, but because it furthers his plans. It isn’t that the tree was a throwaway tree. It was brave and strong and just happened to be chosen. Similarly, this doesn’t make me a throwaway person, it just means someone who couldn’t see my talents and couldn’t see me for me took away my potential to fulfill my dreams but gave me a different purpose.
Unfortunately, grief doesn’t just end, and I still long for a career in pediatric critical care, NICU or emergency. Sometimes it is hard. The events leading up to Easter were hard for everyone. Jesus and the criminals were facing death on a cross. Pontius Pilate was facing knowing he made a decision he knew was wrong in an effort to be popular. The Christians lost their Lord. Judas realized he had denied his identity and faith. The criminal set free was likely dealing with the confusion and guilt of being free but unjustly and at the cost of an innocent man being sent to death. And I have to believe in the crowd’s hearts there was at least a seed of that twinge of conscience letting them know they’d done something wrong in cheering for an innocent man to be killed. But like it said in a book I read recently, Jesus paused Easter to listen to one man. As Jesus was bearing the humiliation, pain, and suffering of death on a cross, he engaged with someone. Not one of the people on his inner circle. That felt hopeful. Jesus pressed pause on one of the biggest events in history to attend to the needs of one person. That is how much he cares. He might not always choose to take the pain away, but he also willingly suffered on our behalf when he could have taken the pain from himself.
I can’t believe I am saying these things. It seems like just yesterday I was crying because God “got” to die on Good Friday but I was still stuck here despite praying for God to take me home. That was over a year ago now. The healing seems so slow and prolonged as it happens, but looking back in the bigger picture it is so clear how amazingly far I have come. It was hard to believe at first that healing in any sense would ever come, but it has.
I guess I kind of feel like I should go back to the topic of my week off this summer. I have no idea what I am going to do with that week. If you asked me in person I’d probably shrug and leave it at that as if I hadn’t put much thought into the week and was thrilled to just have a week with minimal to no plans. In reality, I have been thinking about that week a TON…Sometimes I talk like that TV show is reality and I really do have to pay to use vowels. That’s why I love writing. I was Quiet Girl. I was the girl who didn’t talk. I was the girl who brought her laptop to write to people in person if email wasn’t going to be fast enough but talking was too hard. I was the girl who’s achievement was celebrated when she said “I haven’t thought about that” instead of “I don’t know” (or silence) in response to her best friend’s question. Writing, whether to myself or in a slightly more public forum has always been my way of expressing myself. Sure, even those written words can be terrifying and take a lot of courage to share and were often written and deleted choosing no communication over the fear of communicating, but I can write a lot more easily than I can talk, so I’m going to share in writing my thoughts…
August 10, 2008 my family started going to a different church. The next year I tried out VBS for the first time. In my oversized t-shirt I spent a couple nights with the yellow lightbulbs and a night with the purple feet (both preschool classrooms). The next year I did 3 year-olds all week. After that I started leading the 0-2 year-olds and added on the 3 year-olds when they decided 3-year-olds no longer needed their own class. There have only been two years since then that I haven’t led that age group, although one of those years I was given a room of 2-3 kids alone so I was kind of leading but the actual leader made it clear we were to do nothing but play except for we were allowed to join the other 0-3 year old class for snack. (My group was the younger kids who might get trampled in the other class plus the one older child who struggled with separation anxiety but knew me well enough that I could keep him happy the entire night whereas in the other class he’d be inconsolable). When I started leading the game plan was play time, carnival, music, snack and play time, then pick up. If my memory serves me correctly, the first year I wasn’t leading they stopped having a carnival and the leader decided this age group didn’t need to do anything but play and have snack. It was hard for everyone. 3 hours or so is a long time for a kid to play in the same room with no structure except for a snack right at the end. When I came back to leading I added story time and coloring time and moved snack earlier in the evening, and brought back music. It was a lot more successful, and felt really fulfilling, because parents thanked me for how well I was incorporating their younger kids into VBS and keeping control of the room, and loving on the kids and volunteers. I missed taking the kids out to the carnival, but I was really happy with how the week went and thrilled to be there. I felt like I made a difference.
Then there was last year. My memory of last year is not of how much of a difference I made or how much fun I had. Instead, my memory is of trying to protect the dignity and safety of one particular child and his family. That is not what the week is supposed to be about. I was volunteering with the 0-3 year olds again even though I was in no position to lead. The person leading decided we were going to split up with 0-1 year olds in one room and 2-3 year olds in another. Not how I prefer to do it, as I found it made logistics more difficult (siblings or close friends that really need to be together to do well, “older” 1’s vs “younger” 2’s, staffing two rooms and/or having to split kids up after an initial drop off, etc), but okay, not a bad plan on the surface if that is how you want to do things. Here is the problem. A child with special needs was dropped off. He was in the older age group and his mother made it very clear that she wanted him to be with his age-appropriate peers. I saw no problem with that as he quickly warmed up to the room and played appropriately with the other kids his age. If you didn’t know he had special needs it wasn’t like it was immediately obvious or anything. He fit in. The leader came in and was angry that I let him in with the older kids because he should have been with the younger kids. My mama bear came out and I fought for him, but I lost. This child had medical needs that were very important. Before handing the child off to the younger room since staffing required me to stay in the older kids room, I needed to share his medical needs with the volunteers in his room. The leader refused to let me do this. I was really terrified for his safety. Without going into the details since that ain’t any of yo’ business, he had a condition that was important to recognize because it could be life-altering or fatal if an event happened and wasn’t recognized and treated appropriately and quickly. I only got as far as the people in the next room had no idea at all about recognizing or responding to the condition before I was cut off. The rest of the night I was so thankful for the small windows between the two rooms so I could periodically keep an eye on that kiddo. It was really sad because this kid clearly understood that he was in a room for babies. This room had no age-appropriate activities for him and he was clearly bored out of his mind stuck with the infants and early crawlers. If there’d have been some older 1-year-olds in the room it might not have been quite so bad as he’d at least have had a playmate, but they were all under 1 or just newly turned 1. I was angry, and so was this child’s parents at pickup. I wanted to apologize and explain that I was at least trying to watch out for him. His parents were so brave to entrust him to us – they’d had a hospital visit with him two days before, and I felt like we broke that trust and defeated the whole purpose of VBS – to serve families and reach children. By taking him out of the older kids class he missed the opportunity to have a story, too.
That night I knew I needed to cool off before I said anything I would regret, because I was absolutely livid, but I knew after having a conversation with the leader I would get nowhere with her, so I went above her head to the director of children’s ministries the next morning and explained the gist of what happened. She assured me that she would reach out to the family to apologize and to the leader to ensure it didn’t happen again. That sounds like a positive ending, but everything leading up to that really took away a lot of the joy of that week. Unfortunately as well, we also lost the trust of that family, and they didn’t come back until the last night. I recognize it might not be fair to classify the whole week based on that one situation, but it is my predominant memory of the week. It was a very good week for me because working full time an hour and a half to two hours away combined with the 4-ish hours at church each night meant that I was so crazy busy I didn’t even really have time to think about my loss or my career situation or anything which was super helpful at that time in my life (although coming off of that with not enough sleep, less connection time, and more free time was rough).
Also, while the director of children’s ministries understands what I have done for the children’s ministry, and some of the previous nursery directors got it, the majority of the current staff didn’t appreciate me and somehow couldn’t draw the connection between the success of their ministry when I was around and how they were struggling when I wasn’t around. There were/are also a lot of problems with them just not understanding the needs of parents. Sure, the service doesn’t start for 10 more minutes, but parents can’t be in two places at once, so you can’t turn them away until the service is actually starting. Also, while I agree that prayer is important, it is totally not cool to tell a new family that no, you can’t show them where to drop off their children because you are busy praying. And it is also not cool to tell a family that their child will not be allowed to drink anything because you think their bottle looks weird (the kid had a swallowing issue and his bottle had thickener in it to make it safe for him to drink – understandably the family said if he can’t have his bottle we aren’t leaving him here).
So yeah, all that to say that not even knowing who will lead the 0-3’s this year I can’t say with certainty it will be an utter flop or anything…and I am not sure that most people will even recognize or connect me being gone with a less smooth week…but although I originally put this week on my list of preferred PTO weeks because of VBS, I plan on taking the year off of VBS. I am thinking about Summer Jam, but IDK on that, because based on the videos, I think the game time would be super overwhelming for me and I don’t think that would be a good role to set me up for success unless there is more of a behind the scenes role I could take that wouldn’t involve being around the chaos of the games. Also, I would have a hard time coming to church for Summer Jam and not helping with VBS stuff, because I do tend to gravitate towards finding ways to help out and VBS usually has plenty of things for me to help with that I can excel at, but I’ve never seen anyone involved in Summer Jam need help with anything…
I know there are people who hire a babysitter or have some other plans set up so their younger kids don’t have such a late night or so that there is less chaos in getting ready for the night and getting everyone out the door and stuff…that also sounds like something I would love to do although I definitely wouldn’t accept any exchange of cash for it. I offered that, too, but I kinda doubt anyone’ll take me up on that, because TBH, a lot of the families with kids that age don’t really know me that well anymore and might not be sure about taking me up on that.
So yeah, like I mentioned in the first part of this post, there aren’t any summer camps that I could find still looking for volunteers that week, I don’t think I am doing VBS, and I have my doubts about Summer Jam or watching children working out. I have no idea what I am going to do. My mom thinks I should fly to Georgia, but I am someone who really hates traveling, so the fact that I only have one assigned week off makes me really want to have something that feels like an actual break. Flying is SUPER stressful and not fun for me (Well, the flying part isn’t *so* bad, it is the airport part that I really hate, and then the lack of independent transportation ability following that). Not what I want for my time off. Sure, I could drive to Georgia, but that’d be a long drive, which would be similarly unfun. I could punctuate the drive with a stop somewhere, but I can’t expect people to be available on the exact day and time I want to see them, and so many people have moved all over the country that I can’t really just go one place and have a whole list of people potentially available to say hi to anymore…I feel like I should have some idea what I want to do, but I really don’t. I feel frustrated. I kinda feel like I am wasting my week off since I don’t really have any specific plans.
So yeah…I’m not going to declare on the public internet when my time off is because I know it is bad form to announce in advance when you potentially may not be present at your home since that invites criminals to take part in the opportunity to break in while no one’s home…but if you are someone who knows me in real life and can therefore figure out which week is my week off and have any ideas for me, I’d love to hear them. I super love people, especially infants, small children, and my friends, and so yeah. It doesn’t have to be some glamorous trip across the globe. In fact, I’d be more thrilled with an hour with an infant in my hometown that the entire week alone in Paris.