There is no horror like hearing your six year old say during the most solemn, prayerful, silent part of the Catholic Mass, in the same voice she uses to ask for another chicken nugget across the kitchen, “Who is the man on the X?”
We are kneeling, hands clasped, eyes closed, but not her. She’s been staring at the front of the church, staring above our priest’s head, where that enormous X with the Man on it dangles from the ceiling.
Like any failed parent, my first reaction is to frantically look around to see who has heard. A dozen set of eyes dart away – down to their chests, up to the heavens, over to the other side of the pew. My second reaction as a now publicly failed parent is to whisper-hiss, “That’s Jesus!”
During all of this, my husband’s eyes remain closed, just like when our kids were babies, wailing in the wee hours of the morning. It’s the magical man gift of pretending not to be in the middle of our family’s most disgraceful moment yet.
We go to Mass. We read bible stories at bedtime. Our children go to Sunday School. They learn stories of Jesus, draw pictures of Jesus, have done everything short of make a clay baby Jesus.
Clearly, it wasn’t enough. Not when she asks about the Man on the X, which I would argue is far closer alphabetically to a lower case ‘t’, but this thinking probably confirms my failure.
This is how it gets you. Yes, it. Because I’m not taking the hit for this one. It is whatever force in the universe makes sure these moments happen in front of as many people as possible.
I have been the witness many times myself — to the young child who slapped his mother across the face, hard, in the middle of the grocery store, to the mother in the waiting room of the doctor’s office desperately trying to catch her child’s vomit in her hands, to the woman in the cocktail dress and high heels who misjudged her step up onto the curb and crashed to the ground in the middle of the intersection.
In each instance, the first thing the women did was look to see who saw, and each time, I quickly looked away. I didn’t think the toddler-slapped and vomit covered women were bad mothers, or the curb victim woman was stupid or careless. But I bet they did. I know they did.
When our son was about three years old, my husband took him with him to get the car serviced. My husband loves the waiting room of the car place, with its Starbucks coffee and good magazines. On this saturday the room was packed with customers, and our son was playing with the vending machine, chattering away, pulling and tugging on the handles, growing frustrated.
Finally, he turned to the waiting room and proclaimed, “This f***ing thing doesn’t work!”
My husband addressed the issue by pretending our son did not belong to him, never looking up from his magazine, sipping his coffee and turning the page.
I’ve decided that instead of hating myself because my daughter mistook Jesus for a random man hanging on the wrong letter, I need to be more like my husband. More like a man.
So, in the name of the Man on the X, take that, Universe.