I Love Holy Terror(s)

At church, I always want to sit behind young families with rambunctious kids. I love it when children cry, whine, pull hair, shriek, and throw toys, books and Cheerios in church.

I hate to play the “been-there-done-that-ha-ha-my-kids-are-grown” card, but I can’t help it. I used to dread going to church with my kids, mostly because my son, Michael, had a natural flair for embarrassing me.

It started when he was a toddler. At one church, the pastor had a nice tradition of inviting parents to bring babies and small children up to the altar so he could bless them. It was so sweet to see the line of mothers and fathers carrying their precious ones to the front of the church. But when I picked up Michael and moved to the center aisle, he reacted by kicking, writhing and screaming, “I DON’T WANT TO BE BLESSED!”

There was such unexpected volume and fury in his voice that I was afraid the parishioners thought I was the mother of Chucky/Hellboy and hoped the priest would exorcise, not bless, my kid.

Michael embarrassed me in church again a few years later when he put the wooden kneeler down and, not understanding why it wouldn’t go all the way to the floor, started to jump on it. The reason the kneeler was stuck was because my foot was under it, so every time he jumped, it felt like someone was beating my foot with a sledgehammer. Shocked by sudden, excruciating pain, I desperately motioned, trying to get his attention, but Michael was so fixated on forcing that kneeler down that he kept jumping. In such circumstances, it’s impossible to remain silent and maintain good church manners. In fact, all I could do to prevent my foot from being bludgeoned was to involuntarily scream. Out loud. In church.

It was not a holy moment.

Good thing I was wearing sturdy shoes.

The next time Michael embarrassed me in church was the worst. I have to preface this story by explaining that I was 32 years old before I ever tasted beer. When my kids were young, I never drank hard liquor and only occasionally had a glass of wine. (I have since come to my senses.)

However, I swear on a stack of Bibles that I have never in my entire life been DRUNK. Not even once. So keep that in mind as I describe the following experience that occurred when my son was a middle schooler.

The priest had just finished his homily when Michael turned to me, and out of the blue, proclaimed, “You always get drunk.”

My jaw dropped. First of all, because it was completely untrue and because he said it loud enough so that a hundred people heard and squirmed in their seats.

“Michael! I do not!” I protested vehemently.

I believe that my son has a genetic predisposition to say outrageous things for shock effect because I am descended from blood relatives who do this. They like to stir the pot and get people riled up. It’s great fun for them. I grew up with this.

But think about my predicament in church. My son just publicly accused me of always getting drunk, a ridiculous accusation. Who was going to believe me? Was anyone within earshot wise enough to take what a kid with the Martin bloodline says with a grain of salt?

I don’t know, but it was humiliating.

That was a long time ago, and I’m happy to report that Michael is an adult now. He’s sweet, kind, respectful and behaves in church. Finally.

So when I see parents anxiously shush their young kids in church, try to keep them quiet and prevent them from hurling a sippy cup across the aisle, I understand their agony. And if I can offer any word of advice to moms and dads, I would say this:

Brace yourself. The best (or worst) may be yet to come.


P.S. Michael and John, I love you. (And John, the angelic photo of you and your cousin doesn’t fool me.)

Ann K. Howley is the author of the award-winning memoir,  Confessions of a Do-Gooder Gone Bad. She is a regular contributor to Pittsburgh Parent Magazine. Follow her on Twitter @AnnKHowley