In a prior post, I shared my experiences working with Sunbeams at church. That was written shortly after I finished working with that particular group of children back in 2010. They moved on to new classes, and I moved on to different callings, but in the ensuing six-odd years, we saw each other off and on. Here I deliver a follow-up report.
The Mormon nuns remained delightful. I always made a point of waving at them when I saw them in the halls. Many times they would avert their eyes to avoid having to look at me. One Sunday in 2013, I passed by a classroom, where they happened to be sitting with the rest of their Primary class. I waved. Autumn waved back. Cara physically spun around in her chair so she could turn her back to me and face the wall behind her. I thought to myself, “Let the good times roll.” (In their vigorous defense, I should say that much of their shyness wore off as they got older.)
As is the case with (I believe) the rest of his classmates, Paul was baptized. As part of the service, two priesthood holders are required to be on hand as witnesses. Shortly before his baptism, Paul’s father reached out to me to let me know that Paul wanted me to act as one of the witnesses. It was a heartbreaker, but I had to decline due to a scheduling conflict with grad school. It really was an honor to be considered. (When I next spotted Paul at church, I pulled him aside to express my gratitude, and to let him know that it’s kind of a silly excuse for an adult to say that they couldn’t come to a baptism because they had to go to school on a Saturday.)
And then there’s Karen. My wife and I moved to an adjacent stake in 2015, and Karen’s family moved into our ward shortly thereafter, so we found ourselves back in the same ward again. It was fun seeing her at church. She frequently got giggly and silly when I saw her in the hallway, which I think is understandable – look, it’s my Sunbeams teacher and I’m all grown up now lolz!
And then came the fateful mid-September Sunday, our last in the area. We had to relocate due to a work transfer, with the movers scheduled to come pack us up the next day. When we went to church, an announcement was made asking for last-minute volunteers to teach Primary. Among the classes needing a pinch hitter: Sunbeams.
Teach a bunch of squirming three-year-olds with no prepared lesson, no treats, armed only with my wits and – God willing – the Holy Spirit? Sign. Me. Up.
It was a completely different group of children, of course, only one or two of whom I had ever met. Didn’t matter. All of what I remembered from teaching Sunbeams before still applied: nonstop energy, interrupting statements with no relevance whatsoever to the lesson, attention spans lasting nanoseconds. Ah, the good old days.
At the end of class, I hovered in the doorway as parents and older siblings came by to pick up their preschoolers when, right on cue, Karen happened past. Look, Sunbeams – one of my former students, a satisfied customer! She bowed and curtsied. And, given that it was our last Sunday, I took the opportunity to tell her goodbye.
She was quite surprised. “What? Really? You’re moving?” Yep. Adiós, sayonara, TTYL, et cetera. But it’s okay, I told her – we may very well end up moving back soon, and there’s always Facebook. Adhering to recommended Church guidelines for men interacting with children, I gave her a side hug and wished her the best.
A few minutes later, as I was searching for my wife so we could go home, I stuck my head out the front door to the chapel to see if she was in the parking lot. I spotted Karen’s mother, who was near her minivan.
“Karen’s sad!” What? “Yeah. She’s disappointed. She says she’s going to miss you.”
Well, then. I walked to the minivan and opened the sliding door. “Come here, sweetie,” I said. I gave her another hug – a proper embrace this time. And I told her something that I don’t think I’ve ever said to a child to who I was not related:
“I love you.” Quickly followed up by something I’ve told countless children: “You be good.”
I don’t understand people who think Primary is some sort of backwater where bishops stick the people who aren’t good for anything else.