Sunday, November 21, 2010

Stretched Too Thin

Dear friends,

I am struggling. I am the mother of an ever-increasingly-active two-year-old boy. And I am the choir director of our church, as well as the main chanter. These two callings do not work well together, especially as, stretched thin by those demands, I am thickening in the middle. (The baby is due the week before Holy Week.)

Today I received word from a friend on the parish council that he and another parish council member have been receiving complaints about Teddy's behavior. I did not ask for details.

It seems that I have different expectations of my son than everyone else in the entire parish, except my husband. This morning I was filled with joy because Teddy was singing along with the choir more than he ever has before. Instead of just "Lord, have mercy," "Kyrie, eleison," "To You, O Lord," and "Amen," he was singing the trisagion hymn and parts of other hymns in both Greek and English. At the same time, I was frustrated that he still kicks and bangs on the pews, with his feet and with his little cars. I am fine with him standing on a little box to see out of the choir loft, but this makes several members of the choir almost terrified that he'll fall down. He was stopped from going downstairs (after I had specifically said that he should, as he wanted a certain favorite parishioner who was downstairs and I told him he could go and see his Vickie) by one of the choir members who really upset him by picking him up and trying to keep him in the choir loft. She asked doubtfully, "Can he go down the stairs by himself?" People, he's been going up and down those stairs for months. By himself. Carrying toys and whatnot. Plus, I *told* him to go downstairs. Another choir member, better known to Teddy and myself, picked him up and talked to him, but he was still upset enough that I had to hold him almost the rest of the service.

He knows when the Gospel is. He knows he must either be held by me or sit or stand quietly. He sings, "Glory to You, O Lord," at just the right times, without any cues besides what's going on in the service. On the other hand, he's a wiggly two-year-old.

People usually come to me after I'm wrung out with trying to at least contain him when he's been acting up all through the services and say, "Oh, he was so *good* today!" So I appreciated being told that there have been problems with his behavior. (I wouldn't have brought him to the whole parish council meeting if I hadn't needed to tell the parish council things ... and, no, I don't trust my husband to remember them; he's got his own things he needs to take care of.)

The choir and I can't agree on a time for rehearsal. They say they'll come during Orthros (great, but I'm in church) or after Liturgy (I'm exhausted by then; again: I come to Orthros), but not after Vespers on Saturday. So then they're frustrated at sight-reading on Sunday morning. (I am one of very few people who can read music, and even for "Amen" some of them (who very much need to) just won't look up. Now I know what my band directors were always talking about.)

I don't mind preparing the music, and I don't mind singing planned (or unplanned) solos, even though this morning when I was going to review the music, I broke the plug for our electronic keyboard at home and have no idea whether I stayed in tone 4 for the hymn in church. Fr. Peter usually runs the rehearsals, as he's directed choirs properly before. We've talked about recording the hymns ahead of time and putting them on the church website, but there never seems to be time ... without a noisy boy in the background.

God gave me a husband and a son. The choir literally tricked me into being the choir director. (The parish has no money budgeted for a choir director next year, and there are few parishioners who are able, let alone willing, to step in.) It's painful to listen to this choir when there is no director. It's horrible to watch Teddy act up or cry and I'm not able to get to him because I'm in the middle of conducting a hymn. I love having Teddy in the choir, though. I love having him sing, even if he's playing with his trucks at the same time.

Because of the upcoming little one, my time as choir director is necessarily temporary, but with these new-to-me complaints, and with Teddy's increasing wiggliness, I think it will have to be shorter than I had previously expected.

Please pray that I am making the right decision. (I am sure there will still be complaints about the choir and about Teddy's behavior, myself chief among complainers as among sinners.) Teddy, my Theodore, my gift of God—he must come first. As my husband pointed out today in his focus on godparents: I will be judged for my efforts in bringing those in my care to Christ.

As usual, I wish there were an easy answer. Preferably involving ice cream. However, as in giving birth, the only way out is through, taking all my concentration and energy, for a most worthwhile effort.

O Lady who entered into the Temple today as a small child, the Holy of Holies who are yourself so near to God, intercede for me to your Son.

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Blogger Elizabeth said...

Aw, honey. I feel for you. No, there's no easy answer. I think that you need to meet your own needs, and the needs of your family, as first priority, and I think you know that. It can be hard to do though.

Congratulations on news of a second little one on the way!

Sun Nov 21, 01:25:00 PM CST  
Blogger Christine said...

How could I read this and NOT respond ? Actually, I could write much more than this little box will allow. Although I do not direct the choir and I am not a Presvytera...I do have the same issues with my sweet son Demetri. As you saw during the Consecration, I think he and Teddy are very much alike. I will tell you that Sophia made things very easy and was ALWAYS very quiet and behaved. When Demetri came along it was all new to me because he was so active. Like Teddy, he LOVES to chant, makes his prostrations, cross, says his prayers, venerate the icons, even censes the parishioners in our area of the pews. It used to stress me out because I knew some people had complaints and may have found him distracting. But then I realized the most important thing is that he is IN Church and he LOVES to be there. He is there because it is his church too. I don't bring him to Church to teach him to sit in the nursery or toy room - as it has been advised I do once in a while. My children aren't even aware that there is a toy room upstairs - and I like it that way. He talks less than some other ADULT parishioners. He might make some noise, but he is TWO ! I refuse to let the bad thoughts/comments of a few, ruin what good my son is doing. He is learning how to pray, how to chant, how to behave properly during Liturgy.
Teddy is a BLESSING, a gift from God - as you said. It is our responsibilty, our stewardship to our Lord, to raise them up right. THAT is our mothers, it is something we will be accountable for on the day of Judgement.
So, I say take beautiful little Teddy and go sit down in the pews with him. Enjoy him, pray with him and take advantage of all these precious moments. If he is not throwing some sort of abnoxious tantrum, let him be. It's his Church. I say there should be more "Teddy's" in Church every Sunday !

Sorry you had such a rough day. May the Panagia be with you always.

Sun Nov 21, 01:28:00 PM CST  
Blogger Laura said...

Just do the best you can and if someone else complains, ask if they would like to help you with your Teddy. My guess is you will be met with a blank stare. It sounds like you are on the right track to me...and maybe it is time to step down from choir directing.

Sun Nov 21, 02:43:00 PM CST  
Blogger Michelle M. said...

It sounds like you are doing amazingly well! Much better than we do each Sunday. I cannot imagine having to direct and sing in the choir with a little one at your feet and a husband who has his own responsibilities and no way of helping. I give you so much credit!

I don't think people understand or remember how difficult it is having young children in church. The fact that Teddy sings along and behaves so well is incredible. My children are older, and they don't do nearly as well as he does. You are doing everything right, and don't let other make you feel down on yourself. At least you know that in a few months you'll be able to step back from that role and into a new role. My best advice for that: use a sling or wrap to hold the baby. It helps so much! If you can do what you are doing right now, you are going to do beautiful as a mother of two. I didn't realize that we are due just a few weeks part. It is exciting to see all the women in the Orthodox blogosphere who are having baby this spring :)

Mon Nov 22, 02:06:00 PM CST  
Blogger Mimi said...

I agree, I think you do an amazing job.
Our Matushka is the choir director, and it was before I became Orthodox, but our priest talks about having her have to leave in the middle of Liturgy sometimes with the kids.
We are in seasons of time, and you make the right choice for the season you are in.

Mon Nov 22, 03:42:00 PM CST  
Blogger Matushka Anna said...

God bless you dear.

First, I think Teddy is doing great. I WANT my children to love being in church, sing along, learn the hymns, physically participate. He sounds like a gift indeed.

Second, I can appreciate the sacrifices you've made in directing the choir. I know how horrible it is to listen to a terrible choir and think, "I really should go help." But I think you are making the absolute correct decision about stepping down right now. You will remain stressed out thinking that if you hadn't been directing, you could have prevented that bang that occurred during the great entrance, or whatever. There is nothing in the canons that says that the clergy wife must direct the choir, yet so many parishes think that is the case. Ignore it. Enjoy your child (and soon your baby too) in church and wear earplugs if necessary. (c;

Third, there will always be hateful people who like to spread it around. I'm blessed right now to not be around any, but I sure have been before. Seminary was a great example of this. Boy, the looks I would get! And my children were being pretty good! Say the Jesus prayer and ignore them. You're not responsible for their souls or their "experience" in church. You are for your children's though.

One experience I'll share:

In one small mission, I sang in the choir (there was already a director, thank goodness) and my children liked to sing with me. I had my oldest son in the altar with Father and the three girls and my baby son with me in the choir. We all stood in front of the front pew on the Christ side of the church. Because my girls were singing (and they love to sing in church), other children wanted to sing too. Well, this is fine, but to sum up, what eventually happened was this: I became the babysitter for not only my own four, but around four other children. I was totally stressed out because there was almost no room to speak of anyway and the children would bicker. I was so upset and aggravated by this that Father just suggested I sing, but not stand with the choir. I started standing on the Theotokos side in the front and singing (I didn't need music or words except for the Troparia and such) and my children stood with me. When I was no longer there to act as babysitter, the parents of the children were forced to deal with the misbehavior themselves and I was more at peace. (c;

Tue Nov 23, 08:34:00 AM CST  
Blogger Pres. Kathy said...

I know that is seems hard right now. We are sometimes put in very difficult positions. I think older people sometimes forget how it was to have small children. My three year old can barely sit in church - what a blessing that Teddy loves to sing in the choir. In my humble opinioin I think that are responsibility is to our children and then everything else. Hang in there!

Wed Nov 24, 12:02:00 PM CST  
Blogger Elizabeth @ The Garden Window said...

It sounds like you are doing an amazing job, and that your Teddy is an absolute delight :-)
What joy that he is so happy in Church !

Follow your heart, and do what is best for you and your family.....
Congratulations on the new little one, too !I'll be keeping you in my prayers.

Thu Nov 25, 03:06:00 PM CST  
Blogger s-p said...

I'm getting in late here, but there is a time for every thing under heaven. A time to raise children, a time to direct choirs and build churches. My oldest is 31, and one thing I regret is making my kids "ministry orphans" while they were growing up. Your first "Church" is your home, believe it or not the rest of the Church will go on (maybe not sounding so great as it does...) without you but your kids can't. Hang in there. You'll get your turn, just be sure your kids are getting theirs when it is important to them.

Tue Dec 07, 07:28:00 PM CST  

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