When we got to the pedestrian crossing outside the school my ten year tells me we are ten minutes later than the letter on the fridge told us to be. I had the buggy and him and when the green man appears, we pick up the pace. The others are about twenty yards behind us. I can see that, even though the car park is full there is no one else going into the church, giving me the ominous feeling that we are the last to arrive. This is confirmed when I go in and see the teacher gesticulating madly from the alter. “We were waiting for you.” She says. “Paul is needed on the alter.” But he is still sauntering through the church yard with his dad.
I find them, we head back into the church again and then, as we are all standing at the back, flustered and fiddling with the buggy and coats, we hear his song beginning. Without him. Finally unzipped, he rushes up to the alter to join the group and I feel an overwhelming urge to hit someone. All the practicing, his relaxing bath that afternoon to calm the nerves, the carefully knotted tie, and I didn’t get him to the church on time. Casting around for someone to blame I turn to my husband who is gormlessly mooching into the empty back pews. I look at him with an expression that (hopefully) translates to onlookers as “Teamwork honey! Better late than never.” But really means “I am raging.” Oblivous, he responds with a smile and whispers “better late than never!”
I feel, how can I put it? Do you know the poster for the Wrath of the Titans movie? Well, that about sums it up. “We have an allocated seat” I hiss. “Just follow me and keep quiet.” He does and I head up the middle aisle hoping divine intervention will lead me to our seat. I know we are sharing with a boy called James Kelly and his family but for the love of mike, I cannot put a face to the name. Miraculously, another mother catches my eye and points to a previously invisible space, two seats ahead of her. Almost weeping with relief we head in, past James Kelly. (Not remotely familiar. You know the mothers who greet every child by their first name as they leave the classroom at home time? Well, I'm not one of them.) Behind me I hear my eldest say audibly “why is Mum so cross?” and the toddler immediately wriggles out of my arms and heads for the hills. One look from me and my husband disappears with him and I settle with the other three. One just back from the alter, hands clasped in prayer, the other two muttering about boredom.
It occurs to me then that just like his father, my eldest simply cannot whisper. And, as he had recently begun “experimenting” with language, the whole congregation can hear him say “What the hell is next? We never did this song.” Soon it’s time for the actual confession. I nominate myself as the accompanying parent and we queue up. I can hear my little angel whispering to himself “please don’t let me mess up!” and I take his hand and reassure him thinking to myself “Please don’t let me mess up.” Ahead of us I see a dad walk up onto the alter. Poor man, I think, where does he think he is going? It’s us next and in a feeble effort to redeem myself and seem like a conscientious parent, I say to the teacher, “Do I have to introduce him to the priest?” She nods with a look that says, “Yes. Like I said at the communion meeting last week. Like I said in the letter that I sent home with every boy. Like every parent ahead of you has done.”
Both heads bent in remorse, we climb the alter steps, go to the priest and I tell him my sons name, and that he is a bit nervous and then suddenly think I might start gabbling insanely. Thankfully, I don’t and seconds later find myself sitting on the front pew and realise the vaguely familiar wail in the background is my youngest, in his dads arms, at the side of the church. I wave over to them, my little boy comes back to me and all sins forgiven, the four of us go back to our seats together.