Written by Emily
Sometimes going to church is hard.
This Sunday Sylvie’s cheeks were wet with tears before we even entered the church because why can’t she take a doll that sings Ring Around the Rosie in an eerie cadence into church why? Eventually, one of my distractions worked, and her wailing turned to mild whimpers. It was safe, rather safer, to enter.
But I was an English teacher. I know about foreshadowing. If the flush in my girl’s cheeks and the wild in her eyes were any indication of what was to come, I was doomed. It was an infant chapel kind of morning; I knew that, but the smell of stale diapers, crushed Cheerios and desperation was seeping into the lobby. For the sake of the rest of the family, we had to take our chances in the “big church” rather than suffer the gag-inducing atmosphere of the baby room. We had to.
It was decided.
As we pushed through the glass doors, I feverishly wiped Sylvie’s tears, taking advantage of the salty water to wash away a few smears and smudges from breakfast.
Like most days, I hoped God grades on effort.
I was already spent when we tiptoed to our seats, ones I strategically chose for their easy access to an exit should Sylvie remember the injustice of relegating her doll to the car or decide she’s had enough of this self-restraint business.
We sat down…finally.
I turned to Sylvie and began wrangling her out of her winter coat.
Her eyes widened, “Yooook!” she said in a breathy whisper.
I scanned the congregation.
“Coco, yoooook!” she said again, this time to her sister.
I quieted her and looked for a familiar face, a familiar something that might cause my little one to point and tremble. Nothing. Chloe shrugged.
Once more, just loud enough for the people behind us to hear, Sylvie said with a quavering voice, “Coco, it’s Saaaaanta!”
I looked in the direction of her outstretched arm, and there, standing a few feet away, was a man with a long white beard.
“Oh,” I smiled at her. “I see now,” I whispered.
I lifted her into my arms, confident she wouldn’t make a scene to get his attention. Based on her mall Santa behavior this Christmas, she preferred to observe from a distance.
She continued to stare for a minute more. Thankfully, the man with the long white beard didn’t notice. I don’t think.
Church continued as usual, and my girl forgot Santa was only just across the aisle. She swayed to the music. She played with miniature toys I packed in my purse. She hid from and made faces at the people behind us. She paged through the hymnal while I held my breath.
And then she got antsy.
And then she got louder.
I rifled through my purse. I came up dry. Not even a maxi pad to draw on. I checked my watch–there were at least fifteen more minutes left.
And then I did the unthinkable…well, the unthinkable for January. I pressed my lips to my toddler’s ear and whispered, “Remember, Santa’s watching.” I nodded my head in the direction of the man with the long white beard (the thin man in the Oxford shirt, khaki pants and long white beard).
My pathetic attempt bought me five more minutes with a side of guilt.
I gathered our things and my children with the speed and agility of an Olympic athlete, and we scurried toward the door.
As the door creaked to a close behind us and the freezing rain pelted our cheeks, I hoped, as I do most days, that God grades on effort.