Hey Readers, check this out:
Give the amount of angelic-ness going on in this picture; you would expect that church would be a breeze for the Awkward family, right? Oh, ye of little faith; faith in our true awkward abilities, that is!
Church isn't easy for anyone with little children. Well, anyone normal, that is. I don't know how the Perfect Parents do it; flanking an idyllic row of miniature Norman Rockwell models, with perfectly combed hair and perfectly serene expressions. Each perfect parent able to truly pay attention and absorb all kinds of holiness, while occasionally glancing, with infinite patience and love, at their adorable children. And occasionally glaring at the pew behind and to the left of them, where the Awkward Family is housed.
And I don’t blame them; I am glaring at us too. Awkward Dad and I have to sit in-between the boys or it gets even worse. Hard to imagine, but it does. So, Super Toddler is on the end, until he decides to make a break for it and head for the baptismal font; guess he fancies a swim. I race after him and ignore the tiny part of my brain that wants to throw him in there, in the hopes that this one might actually take a little better. Super Preschooler is talking, at the top of his lungs, about the stained glass and how beautiful it is, what kinds of jewelry that he would make from it, and which balls he would wear it to. Awkward Dad totally has his hands full, shushing the second coming of Louis Comfort Tiffany, so I pick up a howling Super Baby, only to lose Super Toddler to his font dash yet again. I fall into the aisle, while holding Super Baby, which does nothing on the scream front, and I catch Super Toddler by the collar. I secure death grips on both of them, shove a bottle in Super Baby’s mouth, and try to give Super Toddler the “the golden stare.” You know, that stony gaze that my mother, your mother, every mother from the dawn of time, can do at a moment’s notice, that says “I-love-you-God-loves-you-but-if-you-don’t-stop-it-right-now-you-are-going-to-be-meeting-Him-a-lot-sooner-than-you-expected.” Legend tells that my grandfather crossed gender restrictions and developed a fairly frightening golden stare himself, so Dads can do it too. In fact, Perfect Dad is doing a really good one at me from the pew up and over. I try to imitate it at Super Toddler, but something must get lost in the translation because he laughs at me. Very loudly. During the consecration.
Luckily for us, this is an awkward situation that we are very rarely in these days, due to our church’s extremely non-awkward nursery. We leave the Super boys in the care of whichever lucky family is volunteering that week, grab a pager, and gleefully head upstairs for whine-free spiritual nourishment. Well, unless it is Lent. Then, to be honest, Awkward Dad may whine a little, something about too much kneeling…But seriously, the nursery has to be the greatest thing to happen to the Church since Vatican II. These days the only Super we need to worry about during church is Super Baby, but let me tell you, she is firing on all cylinders today.
Let me paint the scene for you: I am sitting in “Baby Row;” which is a couple pews in the back, right by the baptismal font. Since Super Toddler is safely tucked away downstairs, it is okay to sit here again; you know, without the risk of going on a holy water splash ride. (Come on, picture it, wouldn’t that be a great way to formally join the church?) We are flanked by the Awesome and Wonderful families, and Beautiful Baby and Co. are sitting right in front of us. It is Phenomenal Family’s week to volunteer in the nursery, so I am totally relaxed about the Super boys and ready to wholly embrace some holiness. Super Baby, however, has other ideas.
She starts in my arms, but she keeps reaching for Awkward Dad. So, she goes to Awkward Dad and starts reaching for me. It takes us through the entire opening song (which an embarrassing long time for experienced parents like us) to figure out that it is the hymnal she wants. Which we hand to her, just to get through the opening prayers. She drops it at a particularly quiet moment, so we put it away and hand her a teething ring. She drops that on Beautiful Baby's head and then steals her teething ring. Beautiful Baby's mom just shrugs her acceptance of this, so we attempt to focus on the first reading. I can't quite remember the first reading because I am distracted by being hit in the face repeatedly with the teething ring. (Offer it up, Awkward Mom. Offer it up.) The second reading I absorb more of, but that could be because it is mercifully short and Awkward Dad has taken on being hit in the face. We stand for the Gospel and usually this shift of position entertains Super Baby just long enough for the reading of said Gospel. Well, not today. She starts howling pretty much right away, most of which is, thankfully, drowned out by a particularly lovely Gospel Acclamation. (Literally, thank God for the choir.) I spend this time rummaging around for a bottle, which gives me time to glance around and notice that Awesome Baby is asleep, Wonderful Baby is staring beatifically at his mother, and Beautiful Baby, adept at adapting, is gently chewing on Super Baby's teething ring. If we were casting the Christmas Pageant, any of them could swap into the Manger, no problem. I am seething with envy (Nice, Awkward Mom. Isn't that one of the big 7?) and stuffed with self-pity and about 18 thoughts that are not only inappropriate for this space, but pretty much any space. I sigh and shove the bottle into her mouth. Well, at least she is quiet.
Except she isn't. I start praying, in earnest, that the floor will open up and hide me, when her bottle smacking noises start to ricochet off the glorious acoustics of the church. Awkward Dad just chuckles and nudges Awesome Dad; I don't know why. Is this some manly point of pride, how loud one's child can be? I am all set to shame him about this when I actually start to listen to the Gospel.
"Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said, Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me."
Super Preschooler's stained glass windows start to glow in a whole new way and I can't hear any smacking from Super Baby anymore. Well, I can hear it, but it sounds like the beautiful music now. I am not gonna cheapen the moment with my bad writing, you have all had moments like this. You know what I am talking about and could probably articulate it much better. That magical moment when the divine touches you. It could be in a religious space or a mountain top or in the frozen food section of Aldi; doesn't matter, God is everywhere and we have all had experiences of that. Unexpected, unexplainable, and unforgettable.
My spiritual life right now is very much in the right now. I don't have a lot of time for long elaborate prayers or silent serene contemplation. My spiritual life tends to happen right in the middle of the chaos. Little "oh help me figure this out" and "thank you so much for these beautiful angels" and "Saint Anthony, please, please, where are my keys?" The spiritual upbringing of my children dictates much of my religious pondering currently; "Does God like pizza?" "Why did we hurt Jesus like that?" "If everyone has wings, how do they dance in heaven?" "Why can't I drink the holy water? I am thirsty." "Are angels holy princesses?" I don't feel very spiritually aware most of the time, I feel like I am hanging on to a massive holy water splash ride and just praying to make it through. And I look around, especially at church, and I think, "These other moms have it all together. Their children aren't making noises that sound like something out of Aliens. Their children aren't trying to re baptize themselves just to get away from them. Their children aren't plotting to dismantle the windows to make necklaces. Those Moms are imparting holy and wonderful messages to their children; they are, oh so gracefully, encouraging a new generation of spiritually fulfilled people. And I still can't answer whether or not God likes pizza."
But in that moment today, I feel like God is telling me that it's okay. He is like "Hey, Awkward Mom, it's all good. I made your children. I made them noisy and silly and full of beautiful energy and speed. I like that about them and you should to. Praise me in the chaos, I can hear you just fine. I'm God, my hearing is pretty good. I didn't give your children to the Perfects, I gave them to you. You might not be perfect, but you are perfect for them. I love you, and you might want to try loving you too. PS...Pizza is great."
Super Baby talked through the entire rest of the mass, but, for some reason, Awkward Mom didn't seem to mind. Awkward Dad did seem to mind it when Super Baby spit-up all over him right before Communion, but that is a different story for another time.
Awkward Dad, ever cheerfully gazing ahead.
Awkward Mom, ever awkwardly looking around.
Super Baby, ever laughing. May it always be so.