single motherhood


My Sunday struggle

Of all the tasks of being a single mom, I never once considered attending church would become the most taxing.When my darling daughter hit 18 months, she ceased to find zip-lock bags filled with gold-fish crackers or kid-size containers of sliced bananas enough to hold her attention through a complete Sunday service. The smiles and goofy looks of other attendees, seated behind us at Unity of New York, no longer held the mystery they once did. You see. Dear Reader, Julia had found her voice. And was set on using it.

As a championship talker myself, I respect anyone making their voice heard. However, two weeks ago, when, in the midst of Paul Tenaglia’s talk, Julia chortled out a loud and long “HEYYYY!!!!!” to the delight of everyone in attendance at the service – except her mortified mother.

“Yes, there’s one of God’s amazing gifts right there in front!” the minister said.

Laughter and applause rolled down from the rear of sanctuary, the balcony, from my right and my left. And Julia applauded too. But as I watched her tiny palms crash together in delight, I knew my days in the main sanctuary were numbered.

I tried taking Julia on a walkabout in the back area where the books and fliers and welcome table are set up. After thirty minutes of watching her roll like a log across the carpet during the meditation, by the end of the service, I knew there was no going back. Toddlerhood had hit.

“It wasn’t that bad,” Carla, my church pal, said. “ Sure, babies talk, everyone accepts that. At least you weren’t that woman with the crying baby. Did you see they asked her to step out?”

Carla always sees the Unity side of things. Problem was, although Julia typically keeps her wailing to a minimum, I feared she’d have a sudden change of personality. After all, every time the minister asked us to “go within” Julia went without, with a yodel, a yelp, or a “HELLO!” to our nearest neighbor.

“You know, I just didn’t go out when all of you were young,” my mom said later, all the way from Michigan. “And when you guys became old enough for Sunday school, I sat down there with you.”

Funny, I don’t remember Mom sitting in Sunday school, but I do clearly remember my brothers and me housed in the basement of New Bethel Baptist Church– me with the itchy crinoline biting into the backs of my thighs, wishing I could spend the money my mom had allotted for the collection plate on candy after the service.

Church vs. Child Behavior

Since the days of having an Easter speech to memorize and spring dresses to wear (and bear) in the lukewarm spring days of Michigan, the act of attending church, for me, has become vitally important. Unity Church of New York is my spiritual and creative haven. Lead by the magnetic and frequently hilarious Paul Tenaglia, church is a weekly event I rarely miss. Aside from the sense of community, it’s the one place in New York City where if you tell a member you plan to the write the next great American novel that will break all downloads records on The New York Times, Amazon and Barnes and Noble – combined! –  then they are happy to affirm that vision with you. We run a can-do church.

My not attending service wasn’t an option. However, attending church wasn’t working out either – with the wee lass.

Maybe there’s hope. Last week Julia did half the touring around she did two Sundays before. And a lot less yodeling. Maybe because I had already given up something: my preferred seat, of eight years, down in front, first row, left hand side. Lately I made camp in the back of the church, near the restrooms, in the Baby Ghetto, where the other parents of small, new walkers, new talkers, tiny explorers setting out to see new lands, were gathered. I kept my ear cocked to hear the word of God, picking up fifty percent at best.

So far Julia, Jesus and God are neck and neck.

Only fourteen more months to go until my kid can attend Sunday school. Until then, I’ll keep prayed-up, as the old folks say. After all if Jesus could turn water into wine, he can help me find a way to keep Julia entertained, at least between the hour of 11:00 and 12:30 on Sundays.

Well, it’s 10:45. Time to mount up.

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Photo by  Ben White on Unsplash