In church today, I intercept this note: "I like snots." There's a picture that goes with it: a stick figure guy picking his nose. One of my sons drew it on the Prayer Request card and passed it to the other, but now they're sitting up straight and won't tell me who drew it.
We've just begun to let our boys sit alone in the pew in front of us.
"Which one of you has the pencil, that's what I want to know?" I'm cupping my mouth with the open hymnal and trying to talk below the volume of the choir.
My husband thinks I should let these things go, but really, it's nice to have a little action in church. The boys and I get bored on Sundays, and only my husband can sit still for the whole service.
I set the Prayer Request card beside Trevor, my oldest, and let my boys know we'll discuss it later. They are not laughing at the snots now.
My youngest knows the secret of getting out of trouble: ask for a potty break. We head down the aisle, and I hear giggles and soft clapping from the church members. My son, always a creative dresser, today wears rubber boots, clip-on earrings and a belt sideways across his chest.
We use the women's bathroom together because even in church I worry about abductions.
He heads for one stall and I head for another. I see his yellow boots skipping around in his stall and realize he's faked needing to go and is just goofing around with the toilet paper holder.
Soon he crawls under the wall from his stall into mine, just as I'm pulling my dress back down.
"Mommy. I really like that underwear."
"Thanks, Dylan. Let's get back to our seats."
"I like the blue polka dots. Someday I want to have dots on my underwear because I really like them."
Now I notice that there is a woman in the next stall. I can hear her trying not to snort. Her shoes—and they appear to be nursing shoes, gray-white and clunky—are lifting up and down like even her feet are laughing. (And maybe I'll get some Hell points here, but can I ask: what is it with church and dorky dressing?)
"I like the blue dots," Dylan continues. "Except purple's my favorite color."
"I know it is."
I hurry him to the sink and we wash up. As I open the door, Dylan reaches into his rubber boots and pulls his socks above the tops. He walks with confidence toward his seat because he knows that whenever he travels down the aisle, he gets stares and applause.
My husband and I joined this church before we were married. Membership was required to use it as a backdrop for our wedding photos. I didn't grow up going to church, and it's a well-kept secret from my parents and brother that I come here every Sunday; if they knew, I'd face some serious heckling. The main reason I can't tell them is that they'd want a logical explanation and I don't have one.
I'm still sorting out what I believe. A lot of things confuse me around here. Eternity: Does this mean being me is inescapable? How is that not the same thing as Hell? Prayer: After I pray, I usually hear a voice inside saying, "You messed up again. How can you keep making the same mistakes?" Is it possible that God is just a mightier version of my dad? Grace: Getting something I haven't earned should inspire me to do better, but inspiration isn't getting the job done. This week alone, I lied, treated my neighbor the way I don't want to be treated, and shamed my older son until he cried. I could cite a whole list of other sins but I won't.
Every night at tuck-in time, if I've forgotten to say it earlier in the day, I tell my children that I love them. I tell them that even on the days I can't tuck them in fast enough. Being here feels like that. We stop what we're doing to try to re-set our week and get back to what matters most to us—the things I don't do so easily because I'm feisty and easily distracted and mired in bad habits.
My husband nudges me to open a book. I open another for the kids and pass it to their row, even though they can't read these big words. Maybe somewhere, in one of these books or from these unfashionable dressers, they'll get that thing that I don't have—a belief in unconditional love, everyone equal in the eyes of God, calm in the midst of the inevitable trauma and chaos. A belief in a force out there that's bigger, fairer and more forgiving than their mommy.
The ushers pass the collection plate, and before I can do anything about it, I see them carry the boys' Prayer Request card to the altar.
I'm lip-synching earnestly. The pastor's wife is looking right at me and I notice her shoes. They are not cool shoes, and that's to be expected from a pastor's wife. But they are the same uncool, nursing-type shoes from the next bathroom stall. She grins at me, and I know what she's thinking: blue polka dots.
I bow my head along with the congregation. During prayer, I kiss along the back of my husband's neck while everyone around us has their eyes shut. He smiles and pulls my hands into prayer with his. The boys, I discover, are kneeling backwards on the seat and giggling at me—Trevor with his missing teeth and Dylan with his clip-ons swinging. I laugh with them, and can only hope that God has the same sense of humor about me.
BIO: Susan Hendersonis a recipient of an Academy of American Poets award, and the Managing Editor of Night Train. Her work has appeared in Oakland Review's 25th Anniversary Anthology, Zoetrope: All-Story Extra (December 2000 and September 2001), Today's Parent, The Pittsburgh Quarterly, Eyeshot, Alsop Review, Happy, Opium (January 2003 and April 2004), Carve Magazine, Monkeybicycle, Hobart, The MacGuffin, Zacatecas: A Review of Contemporary Word, Word Riot, Pig Iron Malt, Mid-South Review, Eleven Bulls, Insolent Rudder, Ink Pot (January 2004 and July 2004), Moondance (December 2003 and April 2004), North Dakota Quarterly, The Edward Society, The Green Hills Literary Lantern, Bellevue Literary Review, South Dakota Review, Arkansas Review: A Journal of Delta Studies, SmokeLong Quarterly (June 2004 and September 2004), Avatar Review, as well as in a number of pamphlets and training manuals used at Pittsburgh Action Against Rape. She recently helped to judge the "20-Minute Stories" contest at McSweeney's.
Please forward comments to us at: firstname.lastname@example.org.