This past weekend our church had its annual retreat at a camp that’s located about twenty minutes from town. Lots of the church members set up their tents and campers for the weekend, but we opted to drive home every evening for the luxury of sleeping in our own beds. And because I hate camping. And because I know that the kids wouldn’t sleep well and then they would get grumpy and then I would be miserable.

Church retreat has the potential to be an awful lot of fun… or not. This year it was definitely an Or Not experience for us.

This was mostly due to the stage of life that we are in right now. You know, the Four Young Children Stage which is compounded when the two small ones have an intense aversion to being babysat or going to sessions with their peers without a parental figure hinged to their side.

On the other hand, the theme of meditation was not a good one for families with young children. Meditation is a good and worthy theme, certainly, but it doesn’t sit too well with little kids because little kids don’t sit. Yes, there was childcare (some of the time), but as I said before, my kids have issues with that.

The dear people on the retreat committee planned Taize services (which I normally love) and long times of quiet and a Labyrinth and evening prayers and Yoga and so on. All good things, and very needed for some people (especially us?), I’m sure. But for Mr. Handsome and I, they were only good for raising our blood pressure and making us want to swear.

For example, there was a lot of outdoor worship—we were at a camp, after all. That meant that there was a large group of adults sitting down in the woods in the midst of all the trails that linked the cabins to the dining hall to the chapel, and every single noise that anyone made while walking on those paths could be heard by the quiet, meditative adults. Most of the kids were with their different activity groups, except for my two little ones. So one of us had to chase them about while the other person got to attend a session. The chasing person was totally stressed and lonely and miserable, so the person who was having a break was not able to fully relax and enjoy the experience. I think this is what you call a lose-lose situation.

Saturday morning it was my turn to attend a session and Mr. Handsome had The Baby Nickel and Sweetsie. All us adults were sitting there, down in the woods, thinking our ethereal thoughts (and freezing our tails off) when I heard Nickel’s voice, clear as a bell, telling Mr. Handsome he wanted to go that way. And Mr. Handsome answering, “No!” and then Nickel insisting and then Mr. Handsome insisting more firmly and then Sweetsie and The Baby Nickel screaming.

The guest speaker said some nice and true things about how children are life and we should not be bothered by the noises they make and I’m sure most everyone agreed and didn’t mind too much. Except for me. I mean, he’s certainly right, but when you are in charge of controlling the noise volume of the little full-of-life squirts so that others may pray, it does not feel very life-giving.

Then on Sunday morning it was my turn to take care of the little ones. The congregation met down in a huge field by the pond and everyone sat on blankets and chairs and there was beautiful instrumental music and Scripture readings but I only got to listen for about two minutes and sixteen seconds because The Baby Nickel and Sweetsie were fussy and ritchie, and they wanted to leave. And then they got louder and louder and LOUDER, so I picked them both up and hauled them away.

Except there was no “away”. We were stuck in this big field, no building to run into and close the door and no car to slip inside (at least not ours),and even when we were on the dirt road heading up to the playground, everyone could still hear my children shrieking as though they were being murdered. Occasionally I clapped a hand over Sweetsie’s wide-open screeching mouth, but I couldn’t do that for very long because then I would have to let go of The Baby Nickel and he would turn and try to make a dash back to the service. There was nothing I could do but keep going, so I marched along with a steely look on my face and an iron grip on their little wrists, half of the time lifting their arms high so they had to dance along on their tippy-toes and the other half of the time, when my arms needed a break, dragging them along beside me, mentally hurling curses at church retreat. I wanted to get out of there so badly that I could feel my skin crawl. I wanted to jump out of my body and just leave.

Mr. Handsome eventually rode up behind us on a bicycle (they really could still hear the kids). I told him to go get the van, and he met us back at the park which we had finally reached and where I promptly collapsed on the swing. Mr. Handsome went back to the service (where the other kids were supposedly waiting calmly and quietly) and Nickel and Sweetsie eventually stopped fussing and started playing and I read my book.

That was nice.

After Sunday’s noon meal we stuffed the kids and bikes and helmets and sweatshirts in the car and tore out of there. The kids had had a great time and were fussy, already missing the camp. Yo-Yo and Becca Boo asked when the next retreat would be, and we both answered, “In a year.” And then under our breath, “Thank goodness!”

Mr. Handsome muttered to me that we were “retreating from retreat”, and we both laughed, so enormously relieved to be done with the weekend and heading home.


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