It means something different at my house.
It happened last spring. The story. Not the actual crucifixion. At the time, I thought it was just a cruel joke being played on me by the universe. But really, strange and dark and funny as it is, it really cleared up how I handle religion as it relates to my own little children. So, perhaps it wasn't a joke as much as it was a big flashing neon sign.
My daughter, Victoria, was 4 years old at the time. She turned 5 on April 1. Victoria attended a popular preschool here in Cedar Rapids. On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, she spent the morning learning how to stand in line, share with friends, and write her name. The year before, she was a Tuesday/Thursday pupil at this same preschool. The school is in a church. I read the handbook. It specifically said that the school itself was non-denominational and accepting of all faiths. It also said that there would be talk of Jesus, but it would be general. I felt good about that policy and didn't give it much more thought. Victoria liked preschool. Her teachers were really great. They seemed kind and she dearly loved them.
One day, near Easter, a note came home with Victoria saying that each child should bring an empty egg carton to school.
The next week, the carton came back home. Victoria was carrying it in her hand and she put it in the seat beside her as she got into my minivan. On the way home, I heard her mumbling to her stuffed cats and I asked her what game she was playing. One kitty was being crucified and the other was crying.
"Kitty, don't cry. If I am crucified, then I get to go to heaven and be with God. If you are crucified, you'll get to go to heaven too!"
I almost wrecked my van.
I asked her what was going on and she said, "I'm not talking to you, Mom. I'm just playing."
We arrived home a few minutes later and the egg carton stayed in the car. I was still trying to figure out why Victoria thought crucifying her favorite toys was a good plan. I got exactly zero information. Later, I opened the egg carton. Nestled inside were twelve colorful plastic eggs. Each one of them had something in it. I called for Victoria. She opened the eggs one by one and explained their contents to me. One had a flower in it. For new beginnings. One had a nail in it.
"For the nails that the JEWS nailed through Jesus' hands when they killed him on the cross!" Yep. One was empty. "For when Jesus came back alive after he was killed and went to heaven to see God. Then he got to come back and there was a big rock!" The rock had its own egg. This wasn't what I had in mind when I thought about religious education. I thought maybe my horror was a side effect of being an overly concerned mama. Not so! In fact, I met a few other parents who had the same experience with these particular eggs. I decided not to send Tori's little sister to that particular preschool, ride out the last month, and chill.
The Easter Program
A few days after kitty was crucified, Tori was in the preschool Easter program as part of the holy week celebration at the church. There were 40 preschoolers or so. They sang songs about Jesus and the pastor talked a little bit to the congregation about Easter and what it means. The kids were on risers behind him. Victoria loves to be "up front" and she sang her little heart out. At one point, the pastor began talking about Jesus and Victoria interrupted him. In her loud voice. "Yes! Jesus DIED! He was on the CROSS! And he DIED! He was KILLED!" The pastor turned to face his interrupter, agreed with her, and moved on.
Somewhere, someone has this on tape.
I realize we live in an area of the world where the crucifixion of Jesus by the Jews isn't exactly news. However, I would have really liked to have a little more control over how my four year old received the story. She was very familiar with the gory details. I would have preferred to tell her the story as a story. Not as a horror film in which her stuffed kitty would be the lead.