Once upon a time my Sunday’s were relaxing. They were long cozy days spent lounging on the beach with a good book, strolling down to the Farmer’s market, meeting friends for brunch, getting those great $15 manicure/pedicure deals, or just sitting on the couch, lost in the thrones of a movie marathon and my cozy sweats until evening arrived and it was time to change into my pj’s. Fast forward 9 years later, when the morning arrives at 6:30 am to a 3 year old who’s happily crawled on top on my head and softly screams, “MOMMY, ARE YOU UP?”into my ear. Yeah, Sundays haven’t changed much- they’ve been obliterated like a creepy cockaroach.
Nowadays my Sundays loom with the quick one and half gulps of coffee, a breakfast of bowled cereal for Child 1, 2, & 3, the typical am dressing maddness that we routinely experience Monday through Friday, the traditional teeth washing and face brushing fight and crying episodes, and finally the shoe finding scramble. The shuffle out the door for religion class is a miracle met with fresh damp air and a mouthful of panic.
By the time we arrive at our church I’ve given Child 1, 2, & 3 the same “this will not go like last week,” speech. All three give me the same head nod and ill-promises, before heading in. From afar they look like well behaved children. They’re dressed appropriately, they waved at the older ladies who think they’re cute, hold the door for other families, and happily trot off to sit with their friends in class. But I’m their mother. I know better. I just came from the house of A.M. hell and will be soon facing the hour of church panic. These are not angelic children-they’re professional manipulators.
I escape for a mere 45 minutes, which is met with a quick dash to the store with Child 3, who’s already crying because he can’t go to religion with his “bwothers.” I wonder if he holds on to the same hope every Sunday, only to be met by constant disappointment. Kinda like me and church.
The mad dash through the store requires swift manivering. I don’t want to end up with a cart of junk from Child 3, or a trip down the toy isle. However, I do manage to grab a quick sticker book at check out to distract Child 3 in church, which fills me with a sense of confidence. Maybe today I will conquer my kids and leave mass at peace, I think. But then Child 3 cries the whole ride back to church because he no longer wants to pick up his “bwothers,” as he wants to go home and watch Paw Patrol instead.
Back at church, I climb up the 35 stairs with unhappy Child 3 on my hip. My arms are burning from the weight of him, and I’m struggling to make the last step. But I do, only to smile at the other pick-up parents who all appear to be happily enjoying their Sundays. For a moment I imagine their Sundays. I visualize them in church with their spouse and nice family, followed by a trip to the local diner for pancakes, and then back home to read the paper and relax while the kids play tirelessly outside. My daydream is cut short with the scene in Child 2’s room. I peer through the window above the door and catch Child 2 bouncing around in song, his hair wild and sweaty, his laugh a little too animated. The instructor finds this amusing. After all, he isn’t doing anything wrong. However, I am his mom. I know. This is the brink of wildness, the fine line between well behaved jumping fun and a spontaneous meltdown. My smile tightens. Church is not going to be good.
Before I get ahead of myself I should preface this mass with an important factor. Child 2 is making his First Communion this year and is required to go once a week. And my loving husband somehow manages to talk me out of going to mass the night before when he’s home. His biggest fear is taking the kids to church. Actually his biggest fear is taking the 3 kids alone anywhere, but church is on the top of his “things I’m afraid to do with my kids even when there’s back up” list. But I digress, because today is my fault. I got wife guilted the night before again, and today I’m paying for it.
As we’re about to walk out with Child 2’s class, there’s the traditional issue of the candy dish. Their instructors insists on bringing goodies for the kids, which is fine. I’m not a mom against candy. But what I am a mom against is giving out candy BEFORE we walk into church-where they’re NOT allowed to eat it. It’s just setting up a fight I am already trying to avoid. Child 1 & 2 dive in, grabbing two lolipops apiece. I pry their little fingers back, making them release some when the director waves me away.
“They’re fine,” she says. “They’re such good boys. Let them have some mom. Especially this cute guy,” to which Child 3 is then given two lolipops as well.
I smile, looking down at the children who smugly smile up at me as we walk into church. My blood pressure instantly rises. The pews are full, of course. So we end up sitting towards the back, sharing a pew with a middle age gentleman who doesn’t appear to be too welcoming.
“You can’t eat that candy in church,” I whisper to 1 & 2, who are attempting to unwrap their brand new lolipops.
“Mom, we’re starving,” they plead. “We haven’t had anything since breakfast. It will be hours before we get out of here.”
“Why do we have to go to church anyway,” Child 2 starts, his hair now sticking straight up in the back of his head from the sweaty jumping.
“Because you do,” I hiss, attempting to smooth down 2’s hair. “Now kneel and be quiet for an hour. Listen to the stories!”
“But these stories are sooo boring,” Child 2 begins, as he lets himself fall backwards before grabbing onto the pew and yanking himself forward. He does this two more times before I quickly place my hand on his and tell him to stop.
Church is just beginning as I look down at quiet Child 3, to see that he has both lolipops unwrapped and in his mouth. My eyes widen.
“You ate all of that candy,” I whisper.
Child 3 smiles over two orange dum dums. Sticky slime trickles down his chin. I reach to pull a wipe from my bag when Child 1 sees the book I bought Child 3.
“Who’s that for mom,” he yells, as the priest makes his way down the aisle and we all rise.
I ignore him.
“How come he gets a toy again and we don’t,” he asks, pulling my arm.
“Shhh,” I say, widening my eyes at him.
We make it to the first reading before Child 2 pulls out a glob of chocolate play-doh that he apparently made in religion class. I quickly take a second glance as I’m certain he’s holding feces. But, before I can tell him to put it away, it has been spotted by Child 3.
“I want that,” he yells.
“No, it’s mine,” Child 2 yells back, yanking his handful of poop play-doh to his chest.
“Boys,” I snear through gritted teeth. “Be quiet! And, put that away right now.”
We rise for the song. Child 2 is still holding on to the play-doh, squishing it through his fingers, while Child 1 begins giggling at him. I’m cautiously plotting my next move. Take it away and there will be screams and more talking. Keep it and there will be giggling and a guaranteed swipping encounter by Child 1 or 3. Despite my instincts I dismiss the play-doh giggles, and decide to get Child 3 the sticker book I brought for him when we sit for the second reading.
We make it through the second reading and the gospel, my children all busy with their little distractions, myself lost in a joke the priest is telling, when Child 1 reaches over and swipes the play-doh from Child 2’s hand.
“Hey, that’s mine,” Child 2 shreaks. His voice seems to echo and I swear I hear the priest pause. I grab the play-doh from Child 1, who pulls back dramatically pretending to fall back into the pew from my super power strength.
“Ow mom,” he shouts, as he falls back.
I shush him, just as Child 3 lets out an ear splitting cry. The people in front of us jolt in their seats. Child 3 is grasping onto his sticker book as Child 2 is pulling a sticker off.
“I just want to see,” Child 2 yells, as the book goes flying down the pew and crashes into the single man’s leg. Single man doesn’t move, but his face is tense. I grab Child 2 by the arm (another dramatic owww and arm rubbing over my apparent super power arm hold takes place) and demand he get the book and apologize, while flinging Child 3 on to my hip and attempt to calm his loud sobs. I look over at Child 3 who has gotten a hold of the god forsaken play-doh again and has it spread over his face, leaving room for his eyes, nose, and mouth-which he’s proudly sticking his tongue out of. Child 2 sees this and flings himself on top of his brother before I can react.
“Give me it,” Child 2 hollers, while bopping his brother on the head with his fists.
“NEVER,” Child 1 yells through his play-doh mouth hole.
Child 3 is attempting to squirm out of my arms, as I grab 1 & 2 by their arms and drag them into the hallway.
“Are you guys kidding me,” I say in an angry hush. “There are people all around you. You’re disrupting them! We don’t play with play-doh in church, and Number 2 you know better than to grab 3’s book.”
I can feel my face grow warm as Child 1 shakes his head back and forth, mouthing what I’m saying, and Child 2 begins to laugh. My insides shoot fire. I grab Child 1 by the arm.
“I’ve had it,” I hiss. “We do everything for you guys and you can’t even behave for one hour. Just one hour.”
Tears begun to creep up. My throat begins to burn, and though I try to push it down, they still come up. My children have defeated me. I’m one person, there are three of them. I have lost control. I am that mom who comes to church with children she cannot manage. My breathing begins to increase as I drop to my knees, my head buried in my hands.
1, 2, & 3 immediately begin comforting me. Their little arms wrap around me. Child 3 tries to pry my fingers away from my crying eyes, and Child 2 begins chanting “he’s sorry” over and over again.
I’m a mess. I’m certain mascara is running down my face, leaving me to look more ranschaked then I already feel. But my bag, and all of our things are still in the pew. I continue to cry while squating, until someone walks into the hall searching for the bathroom. I attempt a weak smile and try to pull myself together. I stand up, straighten my outfit and wipe away any smudges under my eyes. The plan is to make it to the pew, grab my bag, and the kids things, and run out of there.
I refuse to look at my somber children who softly hold my hand and walk beside me with their heads hung low. I’m still so angry with them. I’m failing as a mom, and they’re running rampant with it.
We reach out pew and just as I bend over to grab my bag I hear the priest say, “Now share the sign of peace.”
The boys immediately begin shaking hands with everyone around us. I’m frozen. I have to respond. So, I reluctantly turn to shake people’s hands, but see that the man in our pew has purposely turned his back to me, and the elder couple in front of us isn’t turning to face us either. The unwanted feeling makes me feel more ashamed and the tears begin to rise once again-only this time I know they’re the ones that won’t stop. I throw my bag over my shoulder, and grab Child 3 by the hand. As I turn to signal 1 & 2 I notice the elder couple behind me has their hands out. I turn and face them, tears streaming down my cheeks.
“God bless you,” the elderly man says, as he pats my hand in his.
His wife places her hand on my shoulder, “It’s not easy bringing kids to a church alone, but you’re doing it. God bless you for that. Don’t worry about anyone else around you. You’re doing a good job.”
I crack a smile through my heavy tears, grab all 3 kid’s hands in mine and leave the church.
I pile them in the car without a word. They’re in a world of trouble when they get home, but for now I can’t speak to them. So I drive, listing a number of punishments in my head, ways I’m going to shape them up, new routines we’re going to have, and promising myself that I will never let my husband wife-guilt me out of family church again. If I have to suffer so does he. But, while I’m thinking of how I’m going to get the kids together before next week’s blessed endeavor, I recall something the elderly woman said.
“It not easy to bring kids to church alone.”
Alone. Wait, what did she mean by alone, I wonder. Does she think I’m alone, alone? Am I the single mom of three misbehaved children who’s father probably left because their mother didn’t discipline them properly and let them run rampant? Or am I the single mother of three children who are misbehaved because my husband left me?
I think of the scenarios the whole ride home. I think of how many times I’ve brought them alone to church, how many times I’ve cried in my pew, how many times people have “God blessed me.” Could people have thought this all along?
I pull in the driveway pissed at my kids and now pissed at my Sunday working husband. This is all fault. From now on he will come to church with me come hell or high water. If my Sunday’s are going to be obliterated then his should be too. And if that fails, then I’m dragging my mother.