"Holy" Ham

I feel heat that radiates from beneath my chest and causes shame and confusion at the exact same time, which causes more confusion. I have been vicariously embarrassed, and I am not yet used to this feeling.

We are at Mass. We have chosen the casual early evening college service, as it was predetermined that college kids judge wayward toddlers less than other mom’s do. We sit in the back, a few rows up, on the end. We aren’t disengaged, but we are as close to darting out of there as possible, faster than you can yell stop, drop, and roll, should things go south. Midway through the sermon-homily, the Veggie Straws no longer hold the delight that they held just moments ago. The book has already been silently read, with silent cues being toddler-nunciated in the form of Mooooing or fish-noising at the appropriate times. Augs has already waved at each individual behind us, and then collectively to the whole bunch. He has high-fived them, played with their jewelry, and worn out his welcome. He wants down.

When he indicates that he wants down, which I liken more to how a dolphin would swim when roped  belly first to a steel rod, we know that this is the beginning of the end. The same way people say they cannot un-hear or un-know something is the same way Augie cannot be un-put-down. When his feet hit the ground, the look he gives me is blissful mischief. He heads for the aisle.

We spend the next five or so minutes wandering around the back of the service, behind all the people, but in front of the exit doors. I take pride in the fact that he’s not crying, or screaming, or tantrumming. I am a hippie mom, and he is free to roam, and people love him, and I love him, and he will grow up to be balanced and not oppressed, when….

I see it but I cannot stop it. He has harnessed the entire bowl of Holy Water in his little iron grip, and with one flick of the wrist, has dumped it all over the knee-high table (? why oh church why on such a perfectly short table?)

The father of another small wandering-but-well-controlled-girl next to me makes a small gasp noise. I freeze, and then I feel hot. There is a fight or flight response in me that for a brief second, considers leaving Augie and bailing on the situation. This is HOLY WATER. Sometimes they collect this from the River Jordan. It could have even rained off of the outside of the Vatican. I don’t know, but all I know is that there was a service of anointing this before we ever got to this service, and something sacred, meant for each set of hands to pass through on their way out of the service, is leaking into the carpet fibers.

My audience consists of other-father and a few typical angry church ladies who were standing in the corner. They don’t look at me or offer to help. They are already scheming how they will tell the Priest who is on the naughty list and make sure Augie never gets into a private Catholic school.  The rest of the congregation has overall remained oblivious, save for a couple of people right in front of the water. Finding no sympathizers except for the other-father, I beg of him to tell me what to do in this moment.

“Do you think….paper towels?” I ask. He nods that that would be the best recourse.

Angry toddler on my hip, I return with shockingly fewer towels than I thought I collected, and am able to clean off about 2/3, leaving the table soppy and the bowl completely empty.

Once again I turn to my other-father mentor. “I mean {long pause} can I even…throw this away?”

We look at each other for a moment as the internal debate rages on. He insists that it is fine, but I worry that church ladies will follow me into the bathroom and insist I had them back the Holy Water in whatever form it took. I feel like I am doing something wrong, but I throw it away anyways.

My husband is still a few rows up and has no idea the trouble we’ve caused.

When the service is finally over, I remembered nothing of it. Embarrassment, not grace, had wiped my slate clean.  Everyone filed out, and like a train wreck, I kept my eyes fixated on the vapid Holy Water bowl, where each person would attempt to dip, and then finally swipe, for a spot of moisture.

On the way home, I told Augustine that he need not take a bath tonight, he had been washed pure.

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