My favorite time in the nursery was snack time.
Oh, it’s not what you might think. I didn’t love snack time because I could snitch a stray goldfish cracker or vanilla wafer, although those were attractive benefits, especially on fast Sunday. But I liked nursery snack time because it gave me something to do. Something official and concrete. A noble purpose and goal.
During snack time, I took the shiny silver pitcher and plodded to the drinking fountain. If I timed it right, and walked really slowly, that could last a good three or four minutes. If I was lucky, I saw adults who were skipping Sunday School and I got to chat with them. It was a blessed relief to interact with people who were wearing panty hose or three-piece suits. And no diapers, unless you counted folks with bladder problems. After a couple cheery conversations with loitering adults, it was time to head back to the nursery. But the fun time wasn’t over. It was time to dispense the junk-food snacks and pour the water into tiny Dixie cups. I performed those functions with the precision of a neurosurgeon. I matched up the piles of snacks on each placemat, to make sure they got equal amounts of salty crackers and sweet cookies. I gave extra treats to the child who was almost four (the one who was always hungry), and distributed a disproportionate stack of Fruit Loops to one little boy who loved Fruit Loops more than he loved his mommy.
I knew exactly what to do, what my function was. Unlike the rest of my time in the nursery when I had absolutely no clue.
When I was called to the nursery, my first response was, “Me? I’m not comfortable around little kids. Are you sure you don’t want someone who knows what to do with two-year-olds?”
The bishopric member was taken aback by my honesty. “Well, Sister Turner, we’ve prayed about it and we feel that you should be in the nursery. We feel there’s something you can learn in the nursery.”
Well, he was right on one count. I did learn something immediately. The bishop knew absolutely nothing about me. I told him yes, not because I felt it was the perfect calling for me, but out of a desire to serve willingly – and because I was grateful for the people who’d served their time in the nursery when my three sons were in there.
Yes, I have children. But it had been a long time since the nursery years. My oldest was twenty-one; my youngest fifteen. I was well entrenched in the panicky how-are-we-going-to-pay-for-this mission and college years. Long past diapers and Duplo blocks. So it was hard to remember what to do with toddlers.
Fact is, I wasn’t sure then. I was never one of those teenage girls who swooned over babies. I wasn’t a young mother who ran a day care in my home. When I babysat my friend’s children (in a strict exchange), I desperately hoped the child would not need a diaper change on my watch. To be truthful, children always scared me a bit. They were adorable from a distance, with their soft cheeks, downy hair, and huge eyes. But up close and personal … well, I didn’t get too close, except with my own. My own were different somehow. They were … well, mine.
As the years passed and my boys grew into teenagers, I never looked back. I never yearned to breathe that milky baby breath or rock a moist little bundle until he fell asleep. I was happy to see my boys turn into young men who could exchange ideas about presidential elections and compare Mozart to Bach.
Still, those boys were off on a mission, college and the teacher’s quorum . . . and I was in the ward nursery.
My first week terrified me. What was I supposed to do with all that time? One hour and forty-five minutes, unless sacrament meeting went overtime (and I started actually enjoying it when Brother Garrett got up to bear his testimony during the overtime minutes or we had a long-winded high council speaker). If the kids played happily, that was fine. But what if they needed something? What if they cried? And what about that lesson time? Just how did one give a lesson to two-year-olds? My first lesson assignment was on the sacrament. I laughed at the thought. Explaining the sacrament is tough enough to an adult. But a two-year-old? I watched the other women in the nursery with awe. They knew exactly what to do. They poked the little boys in their tummies until they laughed uproariously, but not so much that they threw up. They comforted the little girl who cried every week, with such compassion that I felt sheer envy at their nurturing. They did the Hokey Pokey with all the right motions, unlike me who couldn’t remember when to smack my thighs and when to clap.
My role in the nursery became clear one day when a child had a dirty diaper. “Someone’s got stinky pants!” one of the Nice Nursery Leaders crowed. Immediately, she and the other Nice Nursery Leaders began going from child to child trying to discern from which child eau de dirty diaper emanated. While they were sniffing the child’s bottoms, I raced to the window, vowing to open it as far as possible to get some fresh air into the room. As I cranked open the window – and not a minute too soon – I knew I was not cut out for this calling, despite my desire to give service. But what could I do? I had to make myself useful.
That’s when I discovered the joy of snack time. No lesson to teach. No clapping when everyone else was smacking. No fake falling down on Ring Around the Rosey. No visual aids. Nothing but official duties. And for a full twenty minutes! What’s more, the children were happy during snack time. Delirious, actually. Some got treats they never got at home. And their little bodies needed a burst of glucose after wiggling through a long sacrament meeting, then fighting over toys during the first forty minutes of nursery. They needed food. And I needed something to do. Welcome, welcome, glorious snack time.
I didn’t last long in the nursery. Six months and the bishop let me go. I don’t think he’ll be calling me back. I have no illusions of turning into one of those perky women or the occasional ex-bishop who gushes, “Nursery! The best calling in the church!” Just not going to happen. But I did pick up a few skills. I can still turn that trip to the drinking fountain into six minutes.