It crowded my newsfeed on Friday, accompanied by many “LOLs” and my favorite “laughing to the point of tears” emoji.
Robert E. Kelly, a political science professor based in South Korea, was being interviewed live on BBC from his home office when his toddler opened the door and bounded in, followed by a baby sibling in a walker.
The professor reaches back with one arm and attempts to push the toddler away, while continuing to look into the camera and attempts to answer the question.
Then his wife, looking panicked slides into the room, grabs the children, and drags them out as the toddler screams. “My apologies,” Kelly says, repeatedly, while appearing to smile (grimace?) and continuing to speak about the impeachment of South Korea’s president and its impact on relations with North Korea.
One of my favorite viral videos involves an earnest talk that’s interrupted by a cat. But I can’t bring myself to laugh at the BBC video.
The man’s embarrassment is too palpable, at least to me, to find this funny. And then there’s that shove, which is gentle enough. Still, I can’t shake the feeling that a mother who shoved her kid back like that on live TV would be subject to much greater judgment.
There’s also the panicked mother dragging the kids out of the room, hunched over in a failed attempt to stay out of the camera frame. The whole thing makes me squirm. People on the Internet wondered if the woman rushing in to scoop up the children was the nanny, and if she’d be fired. I hoped that the man wouldn’t be angry with the woman.
I guess boils down to this: two men having a conversation, and the presence of the children and the woman are embarrassments; interruptions.
I’m not naive. I’ve done my share of videoconferences and radio interviews from home. I’ve locked myself in my home office and put the fear of God into my children about making noise or knocking on the door. I understand that not wanting children to interrupt a BBC interview says precisely nothing about anyone’s view of children or women or anything else.
But I don’t find the video funny. I feel embarrassed for the man and the woman and the kids. I feel anxious for the woman and worry that the man will be angry with her. I want the man to smile an unmistakable smile — one that’s not possibly a grimace — and scoop the kid into his arms and go on with the interview. I want to see work and family and professionalism and tenderness meld for a moment.
It was on one of my first Sundays at St. James Episcopal that a toddler wandered up to the altar during the Eucharist. Our priest, Raewynne, will calmly pause mid-homily to speak to a child who has made his or her way up to the altar. Before services you’ll often see her showing a toddler around the front of the church — here is the altar, here is the tabernacle, we call this a ‘chalice.’
“Children aren’t the future of the church,” she’s said. They’re the present. They are the church.
One of the Eucharistic ministers scooped John up and held him while continuing to turn pages for Raewynne. Everything continued with as much dignity and reverence as before.
I surreptitiously snapped a picture for Instagram and captioned it: all are welcome at God’s table. I knew I was seeing something important — neither funny nor cute, but better than either of those things: a place where women and children — and unpredictable events — are welcomed with open arms and without apology. This, I felt certain, is what Jesus would do.
It felt like the kingdom of God.
Rachel Marie Stone teaches English at The Stony Brook School in New York, and is the author of several books, including Eat With Joy: Redeeming God’s Gift of Food, and, most recently, the 40th anniversary edition of the More-With-Less cookbook, just out from Herald Press.
(Her humanitarian service includes creating the No. 1 trending hashtag #AddAWordRuinAChristianBook. Do yourself a favor and search some of the results. –Ed.)