I took my three kids to church by myself.
I pride myself on my ability as a parent to fly solo. I’ve taken them out to eat, to the mall, to a grandmother’s house, to the grocery store, to the pool, to the gym and to more playgrounds than I can count.
Sure, I’ve left the house without a diaper bag, without sunblock, without their drinks, even came close once to leaving a baby in a car seat in the living room while I fumbled for keys to lock the door to the house behind me. But every time we made it out and back, and relatively unscathed.
On this particular Sunday their mother was working and had fulfilled her churchly obligation the day before. The two oldest attend religious education Sunday mornings at 9, so we’ve gotten in the habit of picking them up at 10:15 and grabbing a seat in time for 10:30 Mass.
For most of my life my faith has been more of a burden than a blessing. I’ve been let down by my church’s shortcomings and questioned many of its teachings. But I also felt strongly that my children should be exposed to a spiritual life, as I was, to absorb lessons about helping others and doing so selflessly. They could then decide for themselves at the appropriate time what structure, if any, would guide their faith.
I of course left the house without grabbing the bag of books that comes in handy when one of them gets antsy. But all I needed was to make it through the first 10 minutes or so, then we’d attend the children’s liturgy — the part during the homily when the kids get to go to another room, color and learn about the morning’s readings in terms they can process — and then return for about 20 minutes. No problem.
The first meltdown by the 3-year-old took place before the priest had even entered the church. The second happened during the children’s liturgy, when he didn’t want to share crayons, then refused to give them back when it was time to go back to our seats because he hadn’t finished coloring.
“He can just keep the crayons if he’s that upset about it,” said the chipper Miss Nadine, the children’s liturgy teacher, in what sounded like a thinly veiled shot at me to get her one screaming “friend” under control.
Before we could return to our seats, both boys needed to go the bathroom. The 3-year-old entered a stall and latched the door behind him. When I demanded he unlock it — I imagined him trapped inside with a toilet at his disposal — he refused, citing a desire for privacy.
The 5-year-old, hopped up on the steroid in his bronchiolitis medication, couldn’t sit still. The 7-year-old kept taking his seat. And the 3-year-old kept grabbing the hymnal in order to “read” it. I was certain he’d rip the pages.
Instead, he turned to a page with a drawing of Adam and Eve. His eyes locked on the image and he said, in his typically loud voice during a rather quiet point in the Mass, “Hey, they’re naked!”
At that point all I could do was bury my face in my hands and mutter the only appropriate response for the moment.