My oldest son's school building is shared by both a public and a private school, putting his public French immersion kindergarten class side by side with the private Christian school's kindergarten class. They are literally separated by a door jam. On the first day of school this stark juxtaposition made me pretty angry. Though I've calmed a bit since then it still raises some issues.
I know it is cliche, but watching my son get on the bus that first day last September almost ripped my heart out. His particular route involves a transfer of busses halfway, and I'll admit that for the first few times we drove ahead to the transfer station to make sure he made it. There were a few other parents skulking about those mornings as well, so we didn't feel too bad. In fact the first month or two we had to coach him through many anxieties---anxieties that we as parents also felt ourselves. It isn't easy sending your firstborn into the world. Sure, everyone has to do it, but that doesn't make it easier.
That morning as my son walked through door number one and all the Christians through door number two it hit me like a ton of bricks: I found myself resentfully disappointed in those Christian parents, my supposed brothers and sisters in the Lord---angry at them for hiding in their Christian corner and leaving my son out there in the world on his own.
Sure, it would have been a lot easier to send him into a classroom where his parent's faith would have no challengers, where the environment would be arguably "safer", and the teachers would be sympathetic to many of the values that we hold dear. Believe me, I understand the impulse to take that route. We thought about it. Sending a kid to school is scary. Adding the element of faith to the mix, especially when one is never quite sure how well it will be received, can be even more unsettling.
Perhaps under other circumstances we'd have done the same as those parents whom I watched drop their kids off next door to mine that day. I'm not going to say private school is never the way to go. I'm sure there are times when it is appropriate. Heck, I grew up in private school and am thankful for the education I received. But that morning I was ticked.
In my son's case it wasn't really until November when his deep anxieties about the bus and school began to dissolve. That wasn't to do with anything about being a Christian. It is just life. The big thing was actually when his teacher moved his desk nearer the boy who had become his first friend. They've been inseparable since. It turns out there are a couple other church-going kids in my son's class too. Not that our kids really care.
Even the bus transfer goes smoothly now, although my son would still prefer we drove him. He does pick up a lot of crazy ideas from the older kids on that bus. He is a little fish in a big pond. But by an large he has risen to the challenge and made his parents proud.
This is not to toot our own horn or anything. Actually, there are spells where I'm not proud of my parenting at all. This isn't about that. But I do wonder where our son would be at if we'd sent him on the other side of the divider.
He might know more Bible verses. He might be more well versed in "love your neighbour" talk too (although the civil respect he is taught in his class is quite remarkable). He might also feel safer amongst people of his own worldview. Wouldn't we all?
But when it was all said and done would his faith have any earthly good? Would he be anywhere close to being able to be salt of the earth---both salty and in the earth?
Psalm 127 says "children are a heritage from the LORD" and it speaks of them with the metaphor of arrows in a quiver. But it does not have them staying in the quiver. It ends with them at their proudest moment right at the city gates. That's where they show their mettle.
Or perhaps it is that moment when their parents' inadequacies and, hey, maybe even their parents' ill-founded risks, are exposed.
I don't think there is any guarantee that we're going to pull it off as parents, or even if we do that our parenting will be "successful". But I do know how I felt sending my son off to kindergarten that day, separated from the Christians by a door-jam and a big old wall-divider. I felt on the outside looking in at my own "people", and I didn't like them very much. They didn't feel like mine at all. That may sound really egotistical and condescending but that's not how I mean it. I actually found it fairly confusing. Like when everyone at church is pumped and you are sitting there wondering why they feel that way. You question your faith a little bit.
We haven't interacted much with the folks on the other side of the door-jam. My son has only ever really told us a couple things about "that other kindergarten class." He knows that over there they learn about God and, unfortunately, he says that on the playground those kids are a little bit mean to the kids in his class.
I'm not trying to make any enemies from any private-school fans out there. Believe me, I imagine there can be times and places where that may be appropriate. Sometimes it is the only gig in town. Sometimes the context or the child's place in life requires some extra care. I was such a tiny fragile kid growing up in an evangelical environment of fear I remember that I thanked my lucky stars I got to go to private school. I'm not trying to bemoan my own upbringing. No education is perfect, and mine had flaws, but I was well cared for and I appreciate it.
But I guess this all came flooding back to mind on Friday when I got to go to my son's class to tell them about my job. You know how it works: Last week someones dad got to go in and talk about being in the army, another week someone talked about their ad agency. This week it was my turn and I went in and talked about being a pastor.
It went fine. The kids were fun. I tried to explain where I work: How lots of people believe in God and how in our church we believe the man Jesus is God and how we get together to pray to Him and talk about Him and learn to love as He loved us and stuff like that. I explained that I spend most of my week preparing what to talk about because my job is to teach the church people from the book that speaks of Jesus.
The kids seemed pretty interested. I had some pictures on my laptop I showed them from my church in Manitoba and at the end most of the questions the kids asked were about how the laptop works, and about why it is called a laptop and not a computer, and about how I got the pictures on there.
During my little talk I asked how many kids had been to church. My son raised his hand along with a smattering of others. This time I wasn't angry at the other classroom. I just felt happy to be there. And proud of my son. Not proud of myself. Don't get me wrong. I tremble at the thought of all the therapy my kid is going to need when he grows up and leaves home and has to sort through all his dad's idiotic moves. I should probably save up and be ready to foot the bill. But I was proud of my boy. He doesn't understand any of the issues involved here. He is just rising to the challenges before him, as pretty much all kids do, fearfully and wonderfully made as they are.
Outside the classroom I was accosted by a kindergartner hanging around outside that other class's doorway. He asked me what I was doing there. I said I was there to talk to my son's class about being a pastor. He shrugged. So did I. Not resentful anymore. At the end of the day both he and his parents and my son and me need a lot of grace.
But I do think our children stand a better chance of learning to live as followers of Jesus if, as my friend Dale has put it on his blog, we don't keep them clothed in bubble wrap. Our proudest moments as parents will ultimately come when they are out of the comfortable quiver.
As unsettling as it can be to send your child of faith out into the free-market of worldviews, and as scary as it might be to send your child to school at all---it is just awesome to see your child rise to the challenge. I simply pray God graces him and his brothers to keep that flavour, even this side of Sunday; this side of the door jam.
Regardless of how that goes in the years to come, I must say that already in their young lives my four boys have not only been great sources of sleep-deprivation, humbling self-analysis and character development for their dad, but they have each of them already been an immeasurable blessing to him as well.