Our family doesn’t go to church much. Don’t get me wrong. I believe that there are many benefits to regularly attending church. I myself went nearly every Sunday when I was growing up. But when you have a five year old and a two year old, church is not exactly “fun”. In fact, it is downright exhausting.
We had not gone to church since moving to the Bay Area for this exact reason, and on Christmas Eve we decided that it was high time we give church another try. We got dressed up (because, somehow, in my mind, if my children look really polished and cute, perhaps the parishioners will be less angry with them when they start screaming like crazy people during the recitation of the “Our Father”).
Dressed up as we were, that did not keep us from feeling like “those people” while in attendance. We were “those people” who quite clearly don’t come to church often, and whose children, therefore, don’t understand what church, and even Christmas for that matter, is all about.
It all started as we entered the church from the parking lot. The parking lot was teeming with people, all headed straight for the church, and while we got there a few minutes early, we started feeling like we weren’t going to get a seat. There was a side door that would allow us to enter the church much sooner than walking all the way around the building, to the main entrance, but we weren’t sure. Could we enter the side door? Was that ok to do? Was it against church etiquette? We saw some regulars headed that direction so we thought, “What the hell”, I mean, “What the heck, let’s follow them”. What we didn’t realize was that the side door was going to let us into the very front of the church, so now all eyes (about 200 sets of them) were on us as we frantically looked for a vacant seat. It felt like every person in there was thinking, “Don’t they know they’re supposed to enter at the rear of the church like everyone else??” I suddenly thought of the sign that hangs at my in-laws house: “Hippies use side door”. That was us.
We finally find a seat. We are settling in. The kids are pretty wound up, but generally behaving themselves. Then, just as the church started to quiet down in preparation for the beginning of the ceremony, my daughter yells out very loudly, “WHERE IS SANTA??? I DON’T SEE SANTA!!!” Oh good God. Really?? I turn to my daughter and whisper, “Ella, don’t you remember that book we’ve been reading about Christmas? It’s about celebrating Jesus’s birthday, right? Well, that is what church is about today. It’s all about Jesus’s birthday.”
“Ohhhh”, she whispers back. Then she yells, “IS MARY HERE??!!”
“Well, no, Ella, Mary isn’t actually here. But her statue is right over there. You see her over there, with baby Jesus?”
“Oh yeah” she whispers. Then yelling again, “DADDY, DO YOU SEE MARY WITH BABY JESUS OVER THERE?? OH, AND THAT’S JOSEPH WITH HER!” Well, at least our kids know that much about religion. Maybe we’re not doing so bad.
She finally quiets down. And then I smell it.
She has definitely farted.
Ok, well I’m not completely sure if it’s her, but I feel fairly certain. She asks to be held, and then I start feeling mad vibrations on my lap. Yep, it’s definitely her. And oh my God, it smells like something has died. Seconds later, Jackson sits next to me. And farts. Audibly. I mean, really? What did these children have to eat today?
Children are hilarious in this way: they have absolutely no filter when it comes to controlling the sounds that come out of their bodies, be it their mouths or their backsides. After the homily, which was fraught with my children’s firestorm of farts, it was finally time to go up and receive communion.
I bring Jackson up there with me, and I tell him, “Listen, mommy is going to take the wafer from the nice man, and then he is going to give you a blessing, ok?” I think we’re both on the same page as we process up to the front. And Jackson looks so cute. He even has his hands folded in front of him. Alright! Maybe we don’t look like such neophytes after all. But as we walk up to the alter, for ever step the man in front of us takes, Jackson takes five: He inadvertently walks straight into the man, head to butt, about fifteen times on our journey up the aisle. I keep trying to hold Jackson back, but he keeps doing it, over and over again. Pull it together, man. Everyone is watching!
We finally get to the alter, and I take the wafer from the Eucharistic minister. I turn to Jackson to indicate that it’s his turn to get the blessing.
He hides behind my legs.
He is not playing ball. Come on, man! Let the nice man give you a freaking blessing! Nope, he just stands there, staring at him in pure fear. Sorry sir, we clearly don’t do this much.
Moving on. We step over to the man giving out the wine. In the five steps it takes for us to walk over to him, I have a quick conversation with myself: Do I take the wine? I’m pregnant, so maybe I shouldn’t, so that I don’t get any germs. My immune system isn’t so great these days – probably not the best idea. But I don’t want to be rude. Ok, guess I’ll just take a quick sip and be done with it.
But what I wasn’t thinking about was: “Duh you’re pregnant! You’re not supposed to be drinking wine! Even if you do have a glass at home here and there, not everyone in this church shares your freewheeling, have-the-occassional-drink-during-pregnancy views!”
But I have already taken a sip. It’s too late. And as I embark on the walk of shame back to my seat, it feels like 200 eyes are staring at me again, this time thinking, “Unfit mother! How dare she drink wine?! She’s pregnant, for God’s (or in their case “goodness”) sake!”
We return to our seats, and for the last five minutes of mass, my son proceeds to ask me every ten seconds if church is over yet.
“Mommy, is it over yet?”
“Mommy, this mass is taking a long time. Is it over?”
“Can we go home?”
“Is it over now, Mommy?”
Not soon enough, Jack. Not soon enough.
On the way home, Jackson asked me if we could go back to church on Christmas Day.
“No, honey,” I laughed. “We are not going back tomorrow”.
Or at least until I can drink again, so I can numb myself before entering God’s house with my exceedingly embarrassing children. Ok, well, maybe I won’t drink before church, but I’ll be sure take an extra big sip of wine during church.