For almost a full year now, every visiting teaching message has been a tutorial on effective visiting teaching. We have been uplifted, motivated and inspired by many tales of amazing visiting teachers. For a change of pace, I offer my own story.*
I believe in visiting teaching in principle. In practice, it has never quite worked for me. Take this example: when I was a new resident at an apartment building, my visiting teachers asked me, as all visiting teachers do, “Do you need anything?” And once, only once, I tried a radical experiment. I told the truth. I said that I didn’t know very many people in the area and I would love it if my visiting teachers (who happened to live in the same building) would come over to play board games or something for an hour or so sometime.
I can’t describe the horror that flashed across my visiting teachers’ faces. They clumsily stammered and blushingly backtracked from their original question. I realized too late that the question was supposed to be hypothetical.
Later, I moved into a house in a neighborhood with lots of elderly people. In principle, I like that visiting teaching provides opportunity to befriend people from different demographics. In practice, this kind of idealistic multigenerational exchange never happened.
A much older woman was assigned to be my visiting teacher. She would call me and say something along the lines of, “We are planning our visiting teaching appointments. We are going to be doing our route on Tuesday morning. Can we come to your house at 10 o’clock?”
I would respond, “I’m sorry. I work on Tuesdays and Thursdays.”
“We have already made appointments with two other women and we are going on Tuesday morning,” she would repeat, this time more firmly. “Can’t you get work off?”
No, I could not, nor would I take work off for a visiting teaching appointment.
In the end, with an exasperated sigh, she would ask me when I got off work.
“I am off at six but—“
“Fine,” she would interrupt. “We will be waiting at your door at 6:30.”
This news would disappoint me, because after work, I like to do things like eat and use the restroom and verify that my kids haven’t spilled cereal all over place before I entertain visitors, but at this point I’d be sick of arguing and give in.
This conversation played out pretty frequently. From my perspective, since I was only in the office two days a week and was available five days of the week and almost every evening, I couldn’t understand why my visiting teacher could not find it in her heart to visit me on one of the times I was actually home. In my frustration, I often suggested that my visiting teacher just skip my visit this month, but she had a strong testimony of visiting teaching and insisted on meeting the quota.
The actual visits did not go any better than the phone calls that preceded them. Most of her time at my house was spent complaining about its unorganized state (we were remodeling at the time) and the hyperactivity of my two-year-old (who liked to show off when company was present).
Of course, it’s not like I was any better at visiting teaching my own charges. I was assigned to visit an elderly shut-in. Unable to leave her home, this naturally social woman craved companionship. She was obviously excited whenever her visiting teachers arrived. Sometimes she would come prepared with notebooks full of her own poetry sitting by her side so that she could read them aloud to us. She would talk to us for hours, reminiscing about the experiences she had as a younger woman.
There was one problem: this sweet old lady hated children. In fact, she once threatened the young men and young women in our ward with a gun when they attempted to wash her windows as part of a ward service project.
The first time extenuating circumstances forced me to bring my two-year-old along, she ungraciously put up with my child’s obnoxious presence. Like my own beloved visiting teacher, she spent our time together pointing out to me that my daughter probably had ADHD and needed medication. Or better parenting.
When my newborn son was born, I really had a quandary. As a new infant, he would not tolerate going without breastfeeding for three or four hours while I visited a talkative invalid.
Shortly after his birth, the first time I attempted to visit teach, I left my baby home. He was traumatized and I leaked milk all over myself.
The next month, I brought him with me. I thought, he’s just a tiny baby. He sleeps most of the time. I will discreetly nurse him while I listen to her poetry. No one will even notice he’s there.
She noticed. She was not pleased. She sent me home. No visit.
My visiting teaching companion worked every day, so she was only able to visit after 5:30 in the evening. The elderly poet insisted that we come right at 5:30, as soon as my companion got home from work. My husband was not always home from work that early. And if he wasn’t, I had no choice but to put my two kids in the stroller, walk over there, apologize, and go back home.
Finally, I explained to my Relief Society presidency that I felt like the woman I was visit teaching would prefer to be visited by a person who did not have any children.
About a month later, new visiting teachers were assigned to me. They were both women with young children. Neither was shocked by the state of my house and their own rowdy children played with mine during our visits. While I was ashamed of myself for my failure at multigenerational exchange, I had to admit that with visiting teachers that were closer to my own age, I found that being visiting taught wasn’t so bad after all. And I’ve been conscientious not to mess up this good situation; at the end of each visit, when they ask me if I need anything, I always give the right answer.
At the same time, my visiting teaching companion was assigned a new partner to help her teach that invalid poet. I searched the roles for my new visiting teaching assignment. I didn’t have one. I had been fired.
That was four years ago. Since that time, the old Relief Society presidency has been released and a new one has taken its place, but I have never again received a visiting teaching assignment. The new presidency either knows that I was blacklisted or hasn’t noticed that I do not have an assignment. Every now and then, my husband points out that I should probably talk to them about this and get myself back on the roles.
I just can’t bring myself to do it.
*Did your search engine lead you to this post when you were actually trying to find good advice about visiting teaching? Oh dear. But don’t fret. We at the Exponent have our own visiting teaching expert, Spunky. I refer you to her.