This is why I teach “Catechism”

Well, this and handing down the faith, I suppose.

Long story short, I got myself into a yearlong committment of teaching third graders in their first year of a two-year prep for First Communion. Most of the first-year First Communion kids are in second grade, but these were late enrollees or something, I guess, so I have … all three of them. Another brave, young catechist  has the second graders.

Tonight (yes — Sunday school on Tuesday night, after piano lessons and soccer games, but before homework, for these poor kids) only one of my students showed up, a smart but incredibly antsy kid with a Spanish-Argentinian background. So instead of torture the both of us with an hour and fifteen minutes of one-on-one about Moses, the saints, the Ten Commandments and “loving God” (how I think Ignatius Press’ catechetics series was written only for jumper-wearing homeschoolers is another post entirely), I decided to join up with the other class, who was just doing activities and stories on the saints, anyway — in preparation of All Saints Eve. (“No Jedi?” my student’s tyke of a little brother piped up last week when the religious ed director told them to dress up as saints for Friday’s party.)

The kids were hilarious. As in, every time one would open their mouths, the other teacher and I would be suppressing outright screams of laughter. A mild example:

Med-student-turned-catechist: Can you think of some saints?

Tyke: Anakin!

Kid next to me: The Easter bunny?

The really good stuff, though, doesn’t come until after Story Time … when I decided it would be a great idea to tie in their disjointed conversation about Christmas, St. Nicholas, “the Halloween cat,” and probably Jedi Knights with an opportunity to teach them about the real Santa Claus (we take what we can get.)

So I pulled out Sister Wendy’s Book of Saints, which I had grabbed from the public library the week before and, judging from its cover depicting a smiling, Mother-Superior-straight-from-the-Sound-of-Music standing next to paintings of the saints, THOUGHT was a children’s book.

I flipped to St. Nicholas and the story of the three girls’ dowry. So far, so good; the kids were spellbound by the pictures and the thought of balls of gold. Even the concept of a dowry didn’t throw them off. Then, my jaw hung open, sentence unfinished as I got to the line about the girls having to marry, ” … or else they would lead lives of prostitution.” 

I went blank. Felt startled, nervous laughter making its way up to my mouth, the kind I laugh when I probably shouldn’t (reference: last year, after I set my Ministry to Mom’s family’s oven on fire…)

“Or they would lead bad lives,” my fellow teacher chimed in a second later, all the while the kids probably thinking I was pausing for dramatic effect. For once, I was glad they generally struggle with reading.

“Bad lives! Bad lives!” chanted the tyke, cracking himself up.

I managed to point out the gold left next to the sleeping daughters without totally collapsing with laughter.

“Aaaand … that’s all we have to read from Sister Wendy,” I concluded, shutting the book.

They all still thought it was cool.

Later, they colored a picture of a priest celebrating Mass with a cloud of dubious-looking saints (kids with halos over their baseball caps, librarians, etc.) above him. The usual coloring-time chatter quickly arose, led by the little guy’s threats of telling everyone else what his brother did this week at school.

Suspicion rose in my summer-camp-counselor-hardened mind as he squealed, ” … and then he touched a brfghehdgh!” Really, I think he just sprayed spit all over his coloring page.

“A what?” the other teacher asked.

Mischievous grin. Big brother finally confessed.

“Okay, we were practicing handwriting…”

“Yes…”

“And I was doing the letter ‘F’ on the chalkboard…”

“Yes…”

“And I accidentally touched my teacher’s bra.”

A split second of stunned silence between me and my comrade in “Catechism” (what these kids call CCD, apparently) while the students (four boys, one girl who likes word searches and wears glasses) shrieked.

“WHAT’S A BRA?!” One high-pitched, little boy voice screeched above the general din of the other Catechism classes taking place in the parish hall. 

The instigator of the whole thing was now kneeling on his chair, wiggling and demonstrating exactly where a bra was used. 

“OH YEAH! I saw my MOM’S BRA!” cried the boy with the loudest voice. 

Maybe I wouldn’t make a good elementary school teacher, because, despite knowing the other CCD classes well within hearing range were taught by devout, sweet, if not elderly, Catholic women who were probably scandalized enough by the St. Anakin references at the beginning of the night, I just could not stop them. It was too good. Like catching the last half of what sounded like a hilarious joke on TV, and knowing you shouldn’t stay on the channel because a little kid’s in the room, but hesitating for just that one extra second to hear the follow up. That, and I was trying too hard to hide my smile. (Ha, forget teaching … my poor, ruined kids.)

“Ok, guys…” the other teacher tried, also trying not to grin.

“I saw MY mom take off her PANTS!” said the tyke, wide-eyed.

“Let’s color!” I announced cheerfully.

It died down pretty quickly after that.

But oh my gosh.

This is why the things that come out of their mouths never fails to grab me — be it for its sheer hilarity, often profundity or sometimes the simple affirmation that some things do stick in their minds after a Tuesday night at “Catechism.” (Such as when my Spanish-Argentinian guy ran off to get his folder in order to bring back the picture of St. Martin de Porres I had printed off for him the second week of class. “Here’s another saint!” he exclaimed, undaunted after we nixed Star Wars characters. “He was born in South America,” chirped up his friend, the one I thought was never listening.)

Despite, or, let’s be honest, because of, the moments of hilarity, class flowed well tonight, and we talked about All Hallow’s Eve, how to be a saint and even “loving God.” Tonight reminded me that this is why I love “Catechism.”

Also, why I won’t be undressing in front of my kids.

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