Nativities and Pancakes

A Gods of P B & J Story

It was 6 o’clock on Christmas Eve and I was sitting in the church pew with my children, Hannah and Noah on either side of me. Next to Noah sat his kindergarten classmate Katie’s father Adam, my savior. Oh shit, I shouldn’t use that name to describe him in church. I looked at the crucifix high above the altar and mouthed the words “I’m so sorry, Jesus.” Adam chose that moment to look over at me and his eyebrows furrowed in confusion. He whispered over Noah’s head, “Who are you talking to?” Damn. I wasn’t good at making things up, especially with Adam. He was particularly hard to lie to. Not that I lied to him often. Only when it kept me from embarrassment. Like now. I quickly pushed my hands together in the international symbol of prayer. Adam knowingly nodded. He then looked to the back of the church where his daughter Katie was gathered with the other children participating in the Nativity. She was dressed like an angel. Literally.

I’m not certain how I got talked into going to the children’s mass at St. John the Baptist Roman Catholic Church on Christmas Eve. Adam had taken me under his wing after my husband moved across the country with his new girlfriend and left me to raise our two children alone. As a widower with a five-year-old daughter, he had more experience than I did doing the single parent thing. I hadn’t given a thought about how we would approach the Christmas holidays when Adam volunteered to climb into my attic and pull down all the boxes of decorations. He even took us to the tree lot to buy a real tree when he learned, to his shock and dismay, that we had an artificial tree. Having him and Katie around had made decorating the house a little easier and a lot less emotional. So, when he called and asked if we would be going to the Christmas Nativity at the church I of course said the first thing that came to mind, which happened to be the furthest thing from what I actually wanted to do. “Of course, we’re going, the kids are so excited, can’t stop talking about it. We wouldn’t miss it.” Really, I wanted to put on pajamas, lay in bed and watch Christmas movies on Lifetime while the kids played video games. Yet, here we were, all dressed up in church on Christmas Eve. Talk about alternate universes.

“Mommy, why are your knees jumping?” Noah’s whisper came out a little loudly and Adam tried to stifle his laugh as I pushed down on my knees and took in a deep breath. The truth was I hadn’t been in a Catholic Church since Noah was baptized. I didn’t have a problem with religion, I was a spiritual person and I believed in the power of prayer, especially in certain situations when certain men and my pride were involved at the same time. It was more a matter of the business of religion. When all was said and done, I liked it to be just me and God in the conversation, no need for an intermediary thank you very much. Nonetheless, the nuns at the Sacred Heart Academy had managed to instill a respectful attitude toward the Church that had lasted my entire life.

As the strains of the pipe organ began I felt the rush of air as everyone around me stood and my instincts kicked right in, quickly pulling myself upright with one hand on each of my children, tugging them upward. I could almost hear Sister Agnes in my ear telling me to pull my shoulders back and stand straight. As the processional passed on the way towards the altar I smelled the aromatic scent of the incense, heard the familiar clang of the chains of the thurible as the priest marched forward. Suddenly my heart began to race. Familiar words echoed in my head. “It has been six years since my last confession.” “In the name of the father, and of the son . . .” “Bless us oh Lord, and these thy gifts.” “Hail Mary, full of Grace.” A cacophony of words struck from out of the blue and threatened to overwhelm my thoughts. Was this my penance? Worse, was this my purgatory? My knees threatened to buckle and I grasped the pew in front of me until my knuckles were white. Adam noticed and put his warm hand over mine. Looking into his chocolate brown eyes I noticed the crinkles around his eyes when he smiled. I smiled back and my heartrate slowed.

I managed to get through the mass by rote. Who knew religion had muscle memory? With a little prodding, Hannah and Noah were getting the hang of the ups and downs, literally, of a Catholic mass. At one point Hannah leaned into my ear and said “I think all this sitting and standing and kneeling is ridiculous.” And although she was only seven, I swear she sounded just like my seventeen-year-old self. When the time came for the Nativity, Adam put Noah on his lap for a better look and we all clapped when we saw Katie looking sweetly angelic. I saw a few tears slip down Adam’s cheek and I reached up to wipe them away but he was too quick and beat me to it.

Finally, the hour was over. Ever respectful, we stood as the recessional hymn played and the aromatic incense flooded the room once again. We walked to the back of the church where Katie was waiting for us. She ran to Adam, “Daddy, did you see me?”

“I did see you Katie-Q, you were the most beautiful angel I’ve ever seen.” He pulled her up into his arms and swung her around. While Adam exchanged greetings with several families, I stood with my kids somewhat awkwardly since we didn’t belong to the church and didn’t know many people there. Adam suddenly turned with a red face. “Kim, I’m so sorry. You don’t know anyone here do you? I shouldn’t have left you alone.”

“Bad manners Daddy.” Katie chided her father with her fingers shaking at him.

“Well, I guess we’ll have to make it up to them. How about a pancake dinner at our house?” Adam looked at Hannah, Noah and me for approval. You didn’t have to ask twice. Hannah and Noah loved pancakes and I loved not cooking. It was a win/win. Once again I thanked the gods of peanut butter and jelly for giving me such a great friend.