You never know what to expect when you’re raising small humans. Kids do unexpected things (uncertainty principle definition to follow), and despite our best efforts, there are times when we just have to roll with whatever life throws at us.
I was reminded of this when I recently brought my 3-year-old onstage with me during a musical performance.
It seemed like a good idea – or at least a so-so idea – at the time.
The Uncertainty Principle
The other day my husband tried explaining the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle to me. To borrow a definition from Wikipedia: “No thing has a definite position, a definite trajectory, or a definite momentum. Trying to pin a thing down to one definite position will make its momentum less well pinned down, and vice-versa.”
To put the uncertainty principle in parenting terms, my husband explained, we have no idea what our kids are going to do next. It’s also clear that the younger a child is, the greater the uncertainty. My oldest daughter is 7 years old. She’s at an age when we can gradually start trusting her more. She’s less likely to dash into the street or melt down at Target. My youngest daughter is 3. Anything goes with her.
My 3-year-old’s stage debut started when the small three-part harmony women’s group I sing with at church was invited to perform as part of a dinner for the church’s senior citizen members. My teacher husband was conducting parent-teacher conferences at his school that evening and couldn’t watch our daughters. We don’t have a large pool of babysitters we can summon on a whim, so I told my singing group leader I wouldn’t be able to make it.
My leader encouraged me to come and bring the kids along. It was a casual event, my girls could just hang out, and the older church members would enjoy seeing them. I liked the idea of spending the evening with other people at church instead of sitting at home while my husband worked, so I showed up with my girls.
There was a crowd of about 50 people, and our evening started with dinner in the church gym. It was a fish fry with church members contributing side dishes and desserts potluck style. A friend helped us through the food line, filling my youngest’s plate while I filled my oldest’s and my own.
My daughters ate their fried catfish with copious amounts of ketchup. They requested second helpings of devilled eggs, unaware that at potlucks there are never devilled eggs left over once everyone has gone through the food line. They were happy to discover the little bite-sized cheesecake squares on the dessert table. They made repeated trips to the dessert table and scarfed about eight cheesecake squares between the two of them, including the one my youngest squished up in her fist.
Then it was time to go to the sanctuary for music. My women’s ensemble was the main entertainment, with a half dozen or so songs on the lineup. I settled my oldest daughter in a pew two or three rows from the front with a friend and knew she would be fine.
I started feeling panicky about my 3-year-old as I watched the sanctuary fill with people and the reality of the situation dawned on me. I wished we could have hauled a few microphones down to the gym and performed there, where my girls could have played or roamed quietly on the sidelines and it wouldn’t have been a big deal. The sanctuary with its rows of formal pews and carpet, was a decidedly more serious venue and not preschooler-friendly.
I doubted my daughter would sit nicely next to her sister for 30 minutes, and I could see myself having to bound off stage to chase her down. A few people offered to let her sit with them, but she adamantly shook her head when I tried to pass her off to people she hardly knew. I also hesitated to ask anyone to look after her, knowing they might potentially need to leave the sanctuary and miss the music.
So she ended up on stage, (cue the uncertainty principle) where I instructed her to stand quietly next to me. Our group leader who serves as our pianist introduced us and referred to my daughter as “the newest member,” which elicited a few laughs from the crowd. We started singing our first song, and my daughter did her first unexpected act of the night. She apparently thought we were too loud and put her hands over her ears. I could hardly sing the first page of “I’d Rather Have Jesus” while I tried to suppress my laughter. I felt my face turn pink with embarrassment and doubted the wisdom of bringing her onstage.
We plowed through the first few songs. At one point I whispered to my daughter to stop dancing with her tongue sticking out. For a while, I held her in one arm while I held my microphone with my other hand.
Eventually she went to sit at the top of the stairs leading down from the stage out into the sanctuary. She gradually moved down the stairs until she was lying stretched out on the bottom step. It looked uncouth, but at least she was only visible to people in the first row or two.
She ended up walking down a side aisle out among the pews, where a regular Sunday children’s ministry worker took her by the hand and escorted her to the nursery to play. I gave a small thumb’s up from the stage to signal my thanks and approval.
One minute later, my 7-year-old got up from her pew and climbed onstage like it was no big deal since her sister had just been up there. She whispered in my ear, asking if it was okay to go to the nursery to play also. I nodded yes. With both of my children occupied and supervised, I concentrated fully on the last few songs in our program, and the quality of my vocals improved without the distractions.
I slipped out when we finished singing, while the older crowd was sharing prayer requests, and walked down the hall to the nursery where I thanked the person who was watching my girls. We put away the toys and both girls said they had to use the tiny preschooler-sized toilet in the adjoining bathroom. Then we headed home to put on jammies.
I walked out of church feeling grateful that we made it through the evening. My children behaved as well as kids can be expected to, but I was well aware that my youngest was a big distraction during the musical program. Their presence probably brightened the day for some people, and while we attend church with many nice people, I wondered if perhaps my daughters’ behavior inspired criticism about my parenting or lack of a babysitter. If so, everyone has been gracious enough not to say anything to me and allow the evening to fade into memory.
My husband found the story amusing when I talked to him later that night, prompting our discussion of the Uncertainty Principle. Life itself is uncertain, but the uncertainty principle is more prevalent with young children. They provide me with fun stories to retell and make our lives infinitely more interesting. Jesus famously said, “Let the little children come.” So it’s all good, right?
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