Plus, I’ve got kids to hush up. And an atheist husband who doesn’t come to church outside of baptisms and First Communions, so much of Mass time these last 10 years has also been the wild aerobics of disciplining, comforting, threatening and soothing small children with little more than eyes and fingertips and the occasional sharp whisper. But lately, it’s only the tween and I who attend, and church has become, like our lives, calmer. I don’t have to worry about binkies or loveys or other such cutesy names for the objects that are so integral to toddlerhood and then fall away fast and hard. We don’t bring Cheerios in Ziplock baggies or oversized rosary beads. Today, my daughter and I just sit, side by side, and she only needs the occasional reminder not to share every observation that pops into her head the second it pops.
I feel unsteady, sometimes, in the newfound calm.
Across the way, a mother and father pass twin babies with blankets and pacifiers back and forth like paperwork. The mother stoops while the congregation stands, rushing to get a bottle from her diaper bag, to quiet her nearly erupting child before it’s too late. Our eyes meet, and I see her desperation, remember so clearly that white hot panic of being a mother with a fretting baby in a quiet space. The sweat. The pin prick nausea. I’m filled with an insane urge to bring her a steaming mug of tea, dark chocolates and fresh pomegranate, to knit her thick fuzzy socks, to take her baby and shh-shh it to sleep. Instead, I smile that well meaning but sometimes patronizing smile we moms with older children bestow upon new mothers. It gets easier, our smiles say. Or maybe, my god, I miss where you are so much my uterus is crying. And also, you’re doing great.
You know the smile. You’ve either given or received it.