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Burnett's Urban Etiquette

Monday, July 10, 2006

Settle this debate

Am I a curmudgeon?

Don't answer that unless you're Big Daddy, in which case you'll inevitably tell me I'm headed for the retirement home on the fast bus, shorts pulled up to chin, black knee socks with my sandles.

Seriously, though, here's the debate: I was chatting w/a friend today about the wife and I going to church on Sunday in an effort to stave off full-fledged heathenry.

So we sat near the back, 'cause growing up a PK taught me that sitting near the front of a church exponentially increases the odds that the minister will call on you to stand up and help him illustrate some point he's trying to make.

I prefer to be incognegro in church.

Well, a woman with two small children came in and sat behind us. I'd say the kids were three and four. Very cute kids. But they were loud as hell - ironic, considering where they were, I guess.

They were so loud - screaming and shouting the whole service - that I couldn't hear the minister's message. It annoyed me. My wife was more understanding.

I know that kids are loud by nature, and squirmy and all of that. They bore easily. I totally understand that. It's all about short attention spans. And I'm willing to accept that. Kids will be kids, right? That's the argument my friend made during our chat today.

But here's where our opinions differ. I distinctly remember also being loud and annoying as a very young kid in church. And based on funny conversations I've had with my folks in the years since then I know that sometimes I was disciplined, and sometimes my mom would make an excuse for me and speculate that maybe expecting a kid to sit still and pay attention for an hour or more was asking too much.

Funny thing is though, I also remember at that same age being home on a Saturday morning when my dad (a career Navy vet, before entering seminary and becoming a minister) was out to sea. And my mom, having household chores to do like laundry and what not, sitting me down in front of the TV for Saturday morning cartoons - Bugs Bunny Road Runner Show, Looney Toons, Tom & Jerry, etc. And you know something? I never moved an inch or made a peep. I'd sit there like a statue, staring straight ahead at that box, even holding in my pee, because I didn't want to miss a beat.

And I know from comparing notes that it was the same thing for my friends whose parents took 'em to church as kids.

So call me a cynic, but kids can sit still and be quiet and respectful when they want too. Seriously, I was like a disciple in front of that TV on Saturday mornings, and I'm sure I would've pimp-slapped anyone who entered the room and made a sound and caused me to miss even one solitary punchline.

It's that childhood experience that keeps me from being too sympathetic to the parents with the loud kids in church. I'm not even talking about specific belief systems. Believe what you want, or nothing if you want. But if you attend some sort of church-like place, teach your kids that it is as important a place as the TV room or the video arcade. Maybe that way it'll place higher on their values scale. And they'll respect it.


  • Dude, my mom would flash us those death-ray eyes if my sister and I even looked at each other funny during Mass. She also wasn't above sitting between us and gripping us in a deadly pinch.

    By Blogger Tere, at 10:12 PM  

  • Nah, cartoons and church/school are two different things. Ever notice that a segment of Tom and Jerry or Lonney Tunes is no more than 5 minutes long? That's 'cause they realize kids have no attention span....

    By Blogger Rune, at 10:43 PM  

  • Hmmm. Tere I'm with you. Though my folks can tease me about it now, it wasn't often I got off the hook. And when I was acting up in church it didn't last long, 'cause my mom had those same eyes and those same pinchers. And if my dad was out to sea or something, she'd say the magic words "Wait till your father gets home."

    Still, Rune, you make a good point. My wife said the same - church/school and 'toons are different. True, BUT 5 minute segments or not, admit it. You probably sat there too, watching 'em for hours on end, even during the commercial breaks. So even though the two things are different, I only offer the 'toons as proof that kids have the ability to sit still and pay attention for something they place a premium on. Now that I think about it, they're just like adults in that way.

    By Blogger James Burnett, at 11:22 PM  

  • You've got it, James. Children need to be taught.

    Of course, some children are just naturally quiet, therefore easier to teach to sit & be quiet - listening is a much harder skill to teach or learn. Some children are naturally more noisy & find sitting still harder - but they need the teaching more. They're the ones most likely to disrupt class, not listen, not learn at school. &, whatever you believe or not, that matters!

    By Anonymous Bronchitikat, at 6:19 AM  

  • But James, would you have sat still in front of the TV if your mom had turned on a church service for you?

    Kids don't understand what the preacher (or whatever you want to call them - we called them Majors) is saying, so it's incredibly boring for them. To a kid it might as well be the evening news.

    But children do need to be taught to be quiet and respectful of others in certain situations. I'd probably try negotiating -- "Ok. If you're good during church this morning, we'll stop and get ice cream on the way home. If you're not, you'll go to bed early tonight."

    By Anonymous Freddie, at 10:35 AM  

  • Good point Freddie. On the one hand I was so mesmerized w/TV that I probably would have watched a static screen. But realistically, you're right. If it had been a church service on the TV in front of me, I probably wouldn't have wanted to sit and watch in that format either. I guess when I have kids I'll try the incentive method. Can't hurt, as long as they're not expecting big $$$ or a car or something for sitting still in church.

    By Blogger James Burnett, at 12:15 PM  

  • Incognegro. You crack me up.

    By Anonymous og, at 1:57 PM  

  • JB,
    You're not being curmudgeonly to demand that kids sit down and shut up in church and that their parents demand it. Curmudgeonly is when you go to the picnic after church and still expect the same behavior from those dagblammit kids.
    I think your experience is a result of our modern (yours, mine, my mother's and my father's) lack of discipline in making someone do something for their own good. The reason the mother won't do anything is because she doesn't have any level of shame. I realize that shame is a lost concept in America (it went out the window after "blowjob" ended up in a congressional report), but that isn't a good excuse for the failure to instill respect for yourself in your kids. When your kids act up and you don't control them, its like a part of your body is acting out and you can't control it. If your arm started talking in my ear while I was trying to hear the preacher or touching me, I'd kindly tell it to be quiet and then slap it down if it didn't. I have a right to control my space, too.

    It used to be if you acted up in church, the preacher would single you out, loud talk you in front of the congregation, send the deacon over, and then you would get ya' ass whooped by your folks. All this would happen in front of everybody, who would clown you endlessly afterwards. And it would all be your own fault for not knowing how to sit down and shut up during church--leaving was not an option. When did it become cooler to cover for somebody's bullshit than to make them lie in their own bed? Especially when it's so much fun to watch somebody else get beat. What else do people talk about at Thanksgiving and Christmas if not embarrasing childhood stories? She's robbing those kids of a rosy past by not beating them now. When they don't have to spend any time in a 6 x 9, they'll thank her.

    By Anonymous Big Daddy, at 3:53 PM  

  • Incognegro? Is that related to the secret art of negrotiation?

    By Anonymous Big Daddy, at 4:11 PM  

  • Send the kids to Sunday school, where they can be kids, and don't sit them with the grown ups until they can sit in silence.

    Same reason why you don't bring kids to an adult movie (and why so many people do that?). This is not on the kids, is on the parents who can't control them and inflict their behavior on others.

    By Anonymous gansibele, at 10:46 AM  

  • My church doesn't allow kid in the sermon until they're twelve.

    By Blogger Juliette, at 2:01 AM  

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