I've had a hard time going to Church lately. This isn't a crisis of faith, or me having issues about being Catholic. This is entirely about me having a two-year-old daughter.
Lillian looks like Shirley Temple sprinkled with sunshine -- and acts like the Tasmanian Devil after "all-you-can-drink" night at the local espresso bar. But she loves going to Church. Sunday mornings are three hours of "Mommy, pwease go!!" bellowed at the top of her little lungs, with clasped hands and melodramatic plunging to her knees, her little face stretched into bizarre parodies of a hopeful grin. She's madly excited when we get to the parking lot, grabbing my hand and dragging me over toward the church building.
"Aw," my grandmother said when I mentioned it to her. "Isn't that sweet? She loves Jesus already."
Only if you want to say that Jesus divinely inspired our pastor to install a wheelchair-accessible ramp in front of the church, Grandma. I'm pretty sure Lillian's entire concept of Jesus at this point is "the statue baby who has the cool ramp at his house". She waits all week for a chance to walk UP the ramp, then walk DOWN the ramp. The minute we take her inside the actual church, she does nothing but howl in disappointment. When I put on my best motherly scowl and say, "Do I have to take you outside?" Lill immediately perks up and nods delightedly. She's willing to take a swattin' to get within sight of that marvelous ramp. So if she's in a naughty mood right now, we stay home.
This past week, though, all signs seemed good for getting to Church. We dressed Lill up, packed her into the car, got her some time on her beloved ramp before services started, then took her into the cry room for the customary disappointed howl. After about twenty minutes, she cheered up. Then the real problems started.
Catholics do something called the "Sign of the Cross". You put your hand on your forehead ("In the name of the Father"), then the center of your chest ("the Son"), then one shoulder ("and the Holy") then the other shoulder ("Spirit. Amen."). It's our way of starting prayers. Lillian had her own version. At the appropriate time, she put a hand on her forehead, ("Uhhhh Daddez,") then on the back of her head, ("Uhhh Mimi" -- her word for "baby"), then she touched her knee, then her hip, then got distracted by something on the carpet, said "Amen" and bent down to try to put it in her mouth.
I heard one of the other parents whisper, "Was that the Macarena?"
Still, we tried to tough it out. After all, you expect little kids to be little kids in the cry room. But during the most solemn, holy part of Mass, I looked down to see my daughter dart out of reach under the chairs. She then began popping out with a finger jammed up each nostril as far as she could shove them, laughing, "BWAhahaaa!" maniacally at the other parents and children in the cry room.
"Home?" asked my husband.
"Home," I sighed.
One of our neighbors is a preacher's wife, and when I told her of my problems getting Lill to church, she shared with me some of her own adventures bringing five small children (ages 1 thru 6) to services every week. Her five year old is dressing herself now, but not without a few bumps in the learning curve. Imagine looking away from your husband on the pulpit to see that one of your daughters is slouching with her legs crossed, showing the entire congregation that "if you can't normally see it, you don't need it".
Yeah, no underwear. Apparently to her daughter's way of thinking, foundation garments were just a pointless formality along the lines of those extra forks you get above your plate at fancy restaurants. Fine for Martha Stewart, maybe, but wholly unnecessary for everyday folk. Yet another wardrobe malfunction that was never repeated again.
"Don't worry," my friend grinned at me. "Your daughter will embarrass you plenty more times before she finally figures out what it's all about."
"Honey," I asked my husband when I got home, "Do Buddhists have wheelchair ramps at their temples?"
"What?" John looked confused, so I dropped the subject. Maybe I'll just talk to our pastor about installing straight jackets in the cry room.
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This article first appeared in the Manteca (Calif.) Bulletin.