It’s Sunday again, and so we march into church. All of us. Teddy melts down onto the kneeler before we’re even seated in the pew. His shrieks fill all the empty space up to the ceiling, and I wish the opening song would start. My free hand searches blindly through my purse for that bag of vanilla wafers, and when I find it, he’s quiet. For a moment.
But then he starts again.
I heave him onto my hip a little too hard and he bumps his head against mine as we walk back down the aisle. He’s big for his age, and so I’m sure all of those eyes that are watching as I head for the door think I have a child who misbehaves, instead of a normal, active, just over one-and-a-half year-old boy who is too young to understand why he must be contained in a pew.
And I wonder what I’m even doing here. Again. What is the point of going to church every week when I have to leave before I sit down?
Outside, we walk. He waves to passing cars and I lift him up when he gets tired. The leaves of a low-hanging palm branch touch the top of his head and he giggles because it’s just so darn funny. He sits down in a pile of dried pine needles beside the chain-link fence in the parking lot, and his chubby hands pick up little piles of leaves and acorns and dirt. He pushes them through the fence’s openings, over and over. The sunlight touches his eyelashes, and for the first time I notice their length and color: lighter than one sister’s but darker than the other’s. And just as long as both.
He sits on the curb with me and munches another vanilla wafer. And he leans into me, not for support, because he doesn’t need it. But just because I’m there.
And I realize that maybe this is what I’m doing here. Maybe this is exactly what I’m supposed to be doing.
Sometimes, I think we ask too much of them. They’re busy trying to figure out the world around them, and we’re busy telling them the way it is. Instead of letting them find order, we order it for them. Don’t meltdown in the pew. Don’t tantrum. Don’t shriek. Don’t make noise (at all). Don’t be a toddler. Don’t be you. And find a way to understand why I’m asking this of you.
Maybe, the line between high expectations and control is sometimes too fine. I don’t want robots. I want kids who make good choices because of who they are.
Later, when I somehow find myself sitting successfully inside the pew, I watch as Georgia holds a hymnal in her lap, flipping through the pages for the closing song. Jane whispers, “Mommy, you didn’t bring me water.” So I tell her that we don’t need to drink water in church. She motions to Father Ramon, who is standing at the altar, holding his chalice of leftover consecrated wine . “But he’s drinking water,” she says.
I don’t tell her what he’s drinking because that would be entirely too confusing. Instead, I say that we’ll get some water when church is over.
“One more song?” she whispers.