I don’t get to sit with my boys in church very often. On the rare occasion that I take off from work, I really do love going. . Although, it’s similar to running a marathon, I think. It must be. I haven’t run a marathon, but I have watched several.
I am just imagining the training: getting three boys fed, dressed, teeth brushed:”where are your shoes?” For the hundredth time. When we make it through the doors of church, then there’s the actual running: keeping three boys quietly entertained and under control. And the hills, and all the miles in between: the prayers, the sermon, the bathroom breaks. Sweet glory, seeing that finish line: the final prayer. Water, please. And the kids get to run around, jump onto the stage, and say hi to their daddy. And wait, I exhale. I’m exhausted.
During church, my three boys crowd around me. I’m trying not to fall down like a giant tree in the middle of the church service. “TIM….BER! NOOOO!” The scene plays out in my head. It’s even embarrassing in there. I think my boys missed me yesterday. A lot. I worked the entire day. Missed a baseball game and other Saturday boys and Daddy fun. So, today they battle, push gently, squeeze and squirm to stand closest to me, moving my hands and arms to wrap around them like one of those velcro-long armed monkey stuffed animals.
I need just one more arm. That would help a ton. They should hand those out to parents with the bulletins. My youngest boy quietly begs me to hold him. Big old almost-four year old. Off the growth charts for height. His little heart doesn’t know this. He will not give up. He wants to be held. I do my best to not cause a scene. I pick him up and sing along. I don’t want to distract the people behind us with this mama monkey business.
We typically sit off to the side or in one of the further back rows. Strategic mom move: easier escape. There are less rows of people behind us. I overthink things, get self-conscious, and worried. I wish I could completely outgrow this self-conscious motherly trait before my boys are men. How are two six year olds and a three year old supposed to act during church if they are not sedated? The whole time I’m trying to pay attention. Trying. A toy just dropped. Again. The crayons keep rolling everywhere. I thank the person behind us. I use the whisper talking tone to my boys. They aren’t the best whisperers. I must not be either because they never can understand me.
I momentarily look up, and I think their dad just saw us from the stage. He smiled a little more while he was singing. I wonder what we look like from up there on stage. A hot mess, I’m assuming. I’m sweating. Maybe it’s just the three little boy heaters touching me constantly, throwing off my body’s natural ability to regulate it’s temperature. Yeah, that’s it.
I meet other mamas in the back during the sermon. My youngest sneaks a donut and rubs the majority of his sticky-glaze covered fingers on my pants. I don’t know what the sermon is about. I caught a sentence here and one over there. Maybe I can listen to it later on in the week. When the kids are asleep. My boys keep arguing over that Bumblebee Transformer toy. Oh, to have the power to make a toy magically vanish, just disappear.
The service ends. It feels like a victory.
Two women I had never met walked up to me in the lobby, and looked at my boys and me. My boys had a routine case of the post-church crazies. In addition to their natural energy eruption, they had each grabbed a free token of attendance, a box of Cracker Jacks, on the way out of church. I repeatedly said that they had to wait to eat it until after lunch. It was a nice thought. I quickly caved in waiting on their father. I started by saying they could just get out “the prize” or the temporary tattoo. Naturally this prize digging lead to some Cracker Jack eating. This was one of the times I felt like a dog walker with three highly energetic dogs on leashes, all going different directions, salivating from enthusiasm to be on a walk. It’s a false sense of control when you’re holding those imaginary leashes on your all boy dogs, errr, children.
When these two women began talking to me, I began to think of excuses for my boys’ constantly touching, circling, not making eye contact sort of energy. The women told me that they were sitting behind me in church. Uh, oh. My first response, I apologized. They didn’t accept my apology but instead proceeded to tell me how beautiful it was to watch my boys sitting next to me. Holding onto me. They told me about something going on that I couldn’t see behind my back. I held one boy and the other two gathered on both sides of me. These women told me that behind my back, my two older boys were holding hands. I would have never known about this sweet moment if not for these kind women stopping to praise and encourage me. There is enormous, transformative power in taking the time to stop and genuinely encourage someone you’ve never met. Especially an outnumbered, exhausted mama.
That was my sermon for the day. It’s easily transferable to the world outside of church. We’re all running mama marathons. Every day. When we take a moment to verbally high five another woman, we may just help her cross that finish line with her head held high for the day.