Tuesday, November 13, 2007
Sometimes, I have to take my three-year-old to church. I say sometimes because my husband is not a churchgoer and often stays with her. But, sometimes hes out of town. Or, sometimes hes sleeping. Or, sometimes she realizes where Im going and theres no stopping her. She is a diva and at her tender age she believes church is about dressing up and she really likes to dress up.
I could probably slip out without her noticing if I was OK with wearing flip flops to church. But, Im not. Im old fashioned that way. Its what you get when your Latina mother attended Catholic boarding school and your fathers Irish-Catholic mother wore a starched dress, gloves and a hat to mass every Sunday. My bent toward formality comes honestly. That being said, I have lived in San Diego, land of flip flops, for more than two decades. So Im all for a Casual Friday look at church as long as its neat, not too short or low cut and includes shoes.
On a lazy Sunday morning if my daughter sees me trading my shorts and slippers for real clothes shell wander away from her dolls and ask, Where are we going? Youve got to admire that sense of entitlement. When I tell her Im going to church shell shriek with glee and tear into her room.
I want to wear a dress, shell say. I want to wear tights. Im going to be so pretty.
Its that vision that usually wins me over because shes right, she will be so pretty. With her big blue eyes, chubby cheeks, button nose and irresistible roundness shell look like a dumpling in lace. My willingness to take her is further influenced by the fact that my church has a crying room for families with young children. This room is like a soundproof mini-church with its own pews (filled with childrens books), artwork and even a private bathroom. Its walls are mostly glass so you can see the rest of the congregation but they cant hear you or your kids.
It serves its purpose in allowing parents to bring their little ones to church without having to be embarrassed about their kids shrieks, gas or temper tantrums. The trade-off of being in that room is that you cant fully participate in the service because the audio is inconsistent (and thats being charitable) and the speakers are in constant competition with baby wails and toddler chatter. But, I try and follow along the best I can in between reading stories about the Baby Jesus and providing the lace dumpling a smorgasbord of raisins, crackers and milk. Meanwhile my daughter quickly loses interest in the Bible stories and spends most of her time turning pages and pointing out and imitating the sounds of the animals in the manger.
Shes come to church often enough now that by watching the congregation shes figured out theres some order to the standing, sitting and kneeling. After her reading, shell stand on the kneeling bench and watch what everyones doing. Soon, shes yelling at the parents in the crying room. Stand up! Sing! Get up! She points at the haggard- looking parents who are just hoping to make it through without a meltdown much less able to sit and stand on cue.
I explain to her that everyones doing their best but theyre busy with their kids and cant always sing when she wants.
We usually have to take two bathroom breaks. Once because she has a true need and once because she really enjoys the trash can since it has a nifty foot operated cover. Not that Im complaining since it beats the time that moments before the service began she peed all over the floor of the first pew.
Sometimes I think Im insane to bring her at all, especially after episodes like the potty disaster. But, like anyone exposed to faith, she takes whats meaningful to her from that hour of spirituality. She doesnt understand whats happening but she likes the singing, she likes being with other people and, of course, she loves the opportunity to wear her finery. And when it comes right down to it, I cant think of a better way of introducing her to my faith than by letting her celebrate being part of this community in her own diva way.
Deanna Martin Mackey is the mother of an 11-year-old girl, a 7-year-old boy and a 2-year-old girl. She is an associate general manager at KPBS, and has been writing professionally for 20 years. She is working on her first novel about a family.