Backpacks have been purchased, uniforms will be delivered any day now and I’m already bursting into tears whenever think about how it’s going to feel to drop my 3-year-olds off at preschool for the first time this fall. They know their ABCs and how to ask for help tying their shoes, and we seem to have finally broken them of their habit of repeating me when I slip and utter “Shit.” We’re officially ready for school, except there’s just one problem.
I’m sending my kids to a Catholic preschool, and they have no idea who God is.
My husband and I both attended Catholic elementary school, but we never intended to do the same for our kids. While we were both raised Catholic, our faith has lapsed as we aged. At this point, we consider ourselves to be agnostic, although Pope Francis is pretty awesome, and I like a lot of what he has to say about LGBT and women’s reproductive rights.
My family hasn’t been to church since our twins were baptized three years ago (my grandma can be very persuasive when she wants to be about upholding family traditions), and although we have fond memories of our time in Catholic school, part of the reason we settled in the town where we are is because they have a great public school system and we intended for our boys to take full advantage of it.
But this past spring, when it was time to choose a preschool for our kids, we found out the hard way that picking an education path isn’t always as simple as moving to a town where the elementary school has a great playground. The public school program in our town is half-day only and based on a lottery system, meaning there was no guarantee both our sons would get a spot or — if they did — that they would be in school at the same time. That’s highly problematic considering I work from home.
The on-site preschool at my husband’s job was well out of our budget. And while there were a few local private options, their programs weren’t as structured as we were looking for. I considered keeping the boys home with me and doing preschool here, but honestly, I’m not trained in education, and my kids are soaking up facts and concepts faster than I can teach them. I just can’t keep up. Plus, we felt it was important that they get some social interaction with other kids and adults before kindergarten.
So when we saw the local Catholic school down the road was having an open house we decided to stop by and at least see what it had to offer.
I was surprised by how much I loved it. The combination gym-cafe-auditorium, the statues of Mary and Jesus, the unflattering uniforms — it was all so familiar to me, and felt comforting, like some place I’d be happy to leave my children. My boys adored the preschool teacher. The program offers art classes, foreign language classes and technology lessons. It’s three full days a week at a price that was well within our budget, plus I can be there in under five minutes in the event of an emergency; something that is very important to me after the Sandy Hook shootings. We were sold.
But now that it’s almost time to send the kids off for their first day, I’m realizing how unprepared they are for the religious part of their education. They can name every character on the Disney Junior channel, but when we stopped to drop off some forms the other day they pointed to a framed painting of Jesus and thought it was my bearded cousin Zak. (Luckily the nun/principal wasn’t in her office to witness their blasphemy.) I’ve been focused on teaching them the life skills they’ll need for school — how to share their toys, count to 10 and use the potty — but I realize now that I’ve failed to prepare them for the religious part of their curriculum. And I don’t know how to broach the subject.
I’ve been told that at this age the religious teachings focus on the Bible stories, Ten Commandments and Christmas and Easter celebrations. I like the lessons contained in the stories of the Bible, and I feel that they could be helpful in giving my kids a good moral base, but I view them the same way I view Aesop’s fables or other cautionary tales for children… fictional. I could leave the religion talks in the capable hands of their teachers, but I don’t know that I want their first exposure to such important concepts to come from people other than their own parents. At the same time, with my own faith being on such shaky grounds, I’m not sure how to explain the concept of God to them without feeling like I’m lying to them.
I didn’t want the first time my kids went to church to be with school for First Friday Mass, so this past Sunday we traded in our usual t-shirts and shorts for some fancier duds and plopped down in a pew near the door in case we had to make a quick getaway. As soon as the organ music started playing, one of my sons commented loudly that it sounded like the Haunted Mansion ride at Disney World. I turned scarlet as several people around us chuckled. It was obvious we weren’t regular attendees. When the priest began mass, all of the responses to the prayers I remembered since childhood had changed, leaving me feeling even more out of place. A few minutes later my other child announced that he had to use the bathroom, and we slipped out and didn’t return. Church fail.
I think sending them to this particular Catholic preschool will be good for my kids. The educational program is fantastic, and perhaps hearing the stories from the Bible will have a positive effect and help them to become good, kind people.
But if they come home and ask me about God? I know parents are supposed to have the answers, but I have to be honest: I don’t know what I’ll say.
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