Throw-back Thursday! I wrote this piece a few years ago when I took my son (then age 5) to a Catholic Church for the first time. Since communion season is now upon us, I thought you all might enjoy this read:
Do you take your kids to church? Did you go to church growing up? I grew up Catholic but that didn’t mean we went to church. We were those “holiday Catholics,” also known as Creasters or CEOs. Regardless, religion played a large role in my upbringing. My grandfather was a Eucharistic minister and Grand Puba of the Knight’s of Columbus. I received my first communion, was confirmed with the name “Rebecca” (oblivious to the fact that Rebecca is a traditionally a Jewish name – should have been a sign) and my first marriage was conducted by a Catholic priest. I never intentionally ate meat on a Friday during lent, though I was known to forget occasionally…but only with chicken, I swear!
At some point, however, the Catholic Church and I had a mutual break-up. They no longer wanted me due to the fact that I got divorced and had broken every commandment. (Hey, don’t judge me; you probably have too. Read the fine print!). I, in turn, no longer wanted them. Between the sex abuse scandal, the opposition to gay marriage, and ban on birth control, I’d had enough, so I chose a more “flexible” faith: Unitarian Universalism. For those of you unfamiliar with the religion, it’s the type of church where we sing Kumbaya, wear rainbow pins and idolize Martin Luther King, Jr. Our children are “dedicated” as opposed to christened and we never take communion, unless you count the dry mini-bagels at the coffee hour after the service. There is no dogma or creed; there are no commandments to break. Instead, UUs, as we affectionately call ourselves, honor things like the democratic process and mother earth; where divorced people aren’t shunned and the ministers are allowed to marry, even someone of the same sex should they so choose. It’s definitely not for everyone.
Aside from acceptance of all adults, the religion is also extremely kid-friendly; so much so that no one minds if your kid blurts out an answer to a rhetorical question or playfully runs up and down the aisles. UUs don’t get angry; instead you can practically hear a collective “how adorable!” being ushered throughout the congregation. The Catholic Church, on the other, is a bit more formal than my kids are accustomed, so I was interested to see how my 5 year old would react when I took him to his friend Amy’s first communion.
On the way to the church I tried explaining the ceremony to him. Big mistake. I was never a devotee and barely remember my bible lessons, so I was not the best person to explain the whole blood/body of Christ thing. Even still, have you ever tried explaining to a five year old that people who aren’t vampires drink blood? No simple task. It went something like this:
Me: Communion is a way to honor Jesus Christ by drinking his blood and eating his body.
Me: Well, not really. You drink wine and eat bread.
Him: Mommy, you shouldn’t say that.
Me: Say what?
Him: Jesus Christ. It’s a bad word.
Me: No it’s not honey. Jesus is the son of God. Remember we talked about this at Christmas and Easter?
Him: Yeah… Am I going to have to drink blood? Will Amy drink blood?
Me: No, it’s not real blood. I told you – it’s wine to symbolize the blood.
Him: Amy gets to drink wine? How come I can’t drink wine?
Me: Well, she won’t drink wine; she’ll just eat the bread, which is more like a cracker.
Him: Then why did you say she’d drink blood…I mean wine?
Me: Because I’m a fucking idiot, ok? Does that make you happy? (that’s not really what I said…but it’s what I wanted to say.)
Him: Do I get to eat the bread?
Him: Why not?
Me: Because we’re not Catholic and you’re too young.
Next we arrived at the Church. He was in awe of its size and the beauty of the stained glass windows. This church had many of them, as well as a fresco of angels in the ceiling. He asked me who was in each window and if I saw a woman I said “Mary” and if I saw a baby or a man I said “Jesus” even though I had no clue who was pictured. Thus began the non-stop dialogue:
Mommy, people keep disappearing! (referring to the fact that people would go to the pulpit and then leave). Are there ghosts in church? Look! There goes another one! Where are the kids? Where’s the bread? Where’s Tyler? (Amy’s older brother). Watch out Mommy, I think those angels might poop on us! Here comes Amy. Hey, why is she wearing a wedding dress? Can I see Tyler yet? You look pretty Mommy. I’m touching your boob! Where are those crackers? I’m hungry! This is sooooooo boring. Look, someone else disappeared. Mommy, I’m shooting the singer…pow, pow (with imaginary gun pointing toward the organist in the loft). My penis hurts. Are you praying? Why not? What’s everyone saying? When will they eat the bread? Can I eat the bread?
I explained to him that it was for the kids he saw earlier, the ones wearing white:
Him: I should have worn my white shirt so I could have communion!
Me: You’re not old enough and you’re not Catholic so you still wouldn’t have been able to have communion.
Him: I want to be Catholic.
Me: If you’re catholic you have to come to a church like this every Sunday.
Him: Never mind.
Queue organ music:
Him: Ooh, mommy…this looks like it’s about to get scary.
Me: I don’t think so honey.
Him: I do. I bet someone else will disappear!
And so on…it truly did not stop until we got up and walked out the door.
As one who is typically paranoid about my children’s behavior in public, I assumed that those in my vicinity were offended and/or annoyed by my son’s incessant chatter. They were most likely wondering why I didn’t put him in the crying room (do they still call it that?) or make him wait outside. Then, a wonderful thing happened during the exchange of peace that quelled my paranoia. I turned around to shake the hands of the people behind me, wincing as I waited for the dirty look. My son followed my lead, as he held out his tiny hand and said, “Please be with you.” My fellow peace-goers gave him a hearty handshake, and me an enormous smile, as they commented on how adorable and well behaved my son had been.
I sat there stunned. Really? I spent the entire service concerned that my son wasn’t sitting still, was talking too much, was saying and doing inappropriate things. Let’s face it; the kid shot the organist, touched my breast and got the peace sentiment wrong, all under God’s watchful eye. Did I set my expectations too high? I didn’t think so.
I guess the adults around me could see what I could not: expecting a five-year-old to sit still and pay attention for an hour-long service is madness. That’s why the UUs send their kids off to religious education classes halfway through. This incident was another beautiful reminder that kids are kids. We can’t expect them to act like adults. (Who am I kidding? This adult had to restrain herself from taking out her phone to play a game or check email.) Instead we should celebrate their fresh view on life and vibrant sense of humor. This is often easier said than done, especially when the rest of the world is watching…and not everyone is so kind.
Perhaps I should stop worrying about pleasing everyone else, and focus on doing what I think is right. If others don’t like it, I’ll just tell them to go to hell. After all, that’s where I’ll be in the next life!