Parental policing in pews brings propriety, corrects posture

Categorized as Grounds for Insanity column, Rhonda's Posts

Driving along, I felt it. There we were, sandwiched between two, one in front and one behind.

Why was it that the mere sight of a cruiser could strike instant guilt in a person’s heart, even if you were doing nothing wrong? Why was tapping one’s brakes an instinctive reaction for a law-abiding citizen like me?

Mr. Schrock, I noted in a sideways glance, was cool as a cucumber, looking for all the world as though he were strolling through a meadow of green, picking daisies. Then there was me, feet twitching with the urge to stand on the brakes on his behalf. I considered this for a nanosecond before scrapping the notion. Putting a police car through the trunk of the BMV (Blue Mommy Van) was no way to fly under the radar, now, was it?

Compliant oldest child that I was, such fear made no sense. After all, I was a stellar Obeyer of the Laws of the Land. Why, I’d never spit on a public sidewalk or even so much as jaywalked. (Well, there was that one time up at the main square, but I was needing to get to the coffee shop, so I had a reason.) At any rate, there was something about the presence of the law that made you want to dot your “i’s” and cross your “t’s” twice just in case.

It was several days after our little “cruiser sandwich” experience that I had the flashback. There I was, sitting on a hardwood pew in the church of my youth, singing hymns acapella.

It was a rite of passage in our conservative Mennonite congregation. Once a boy or a girl hit a certain age, they were allowed to leave the family unit and sit up front with their peers. This move was eagerly anticipated and celebrated. Angels sang, harps played and the winds of freedom blew. All the way up to the second row.

When you were still a child, see, you “thought as a child.” You “spake as a child.” And you sat with your parents in the back. Where you were within reach. There, if you cut capers, wriggled incessantly or “accidentally” kicked a sibling under the bench, one of two things would happen. You’d get The Pinch or The Squeeze, neither of which you wanted.

Fathers were experts at The Squeeze. Casually laying one meaty arm across the back of the pew, a thumb and a finger would descend, finding the soft part at the top of the shoulder, and there it came. With mothers, it was The Pinch. Slipping a hand over discreetly to a vulnerable leg, you’d feel it—a ring of fire on your left thigh. Suddenly, whatever you’d been doing wasn’t so funny anymore. In a flash, clarity returned, and you realized that kicking your sister hadn’t been your brightest idea. Or that’s how my brother tells it.

No matter how the message was delivered, it had another significant effect. Where before a young perpetrator had been slouching, there was an instant correction in posture when the fire fell. Like that, he or she would shoot up, spine ramrod straight, tears streaming from eyes that burned. To nearby congregants, it looked like you’d gotten religion, that conviction had fallen. At least, that’s how my brother tells it.

It was strategic, of course, putting the youth up there. With the preacher in front and the parents behind, it was the church version of the “cruiser sandwich.” This, after all, was God’s house, and one already felt more keenly the presence of the Eye in the Sky. That, along with the two in the pulpit and the four watching assiduously in the back.

As a youth enjoying the freedom of those front rows, out of reach of parental fingers, your thighs and shoulders were safe, but there was Something Even Worse. And that was Being Retrieved. On the scale of Most Humiliating Punishments Imaginable, this was number one.

It could happen several ways. First, your mother could pass you a note, which everyone would see. Second, your dad could arise from his seat, come up there and march you back, executioner like, before God and all those witnesses. Lastly, you could make the mistake of turning around in the middle of all your giggling, whispering and general mayhem with your girlfriends and make eye contact with your mother. Who would crook a finger in the universal sign language for, “You. Come. Here.” Which is just what happened to someone I know and love.

To this day, whenever the story is told, there is a great deal of hooting and hollering over what happened next. With her signature dramatic flair, that young girl put on an Oscar-worthy performance replete with facial expressions and hand gestures, using her own universal sign language for, “Huh? What? I don’t know what you mean.”

I wonder if this would work with the men in blue. I wonder if I’d be convincing. I wonder if Mr. Schrock would bail me out if I’m not.

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