Today is the feast of the Immaculate Conception. First, this is a Catholic feast wherein we celebrate the conception of the Virgin Mary without Original Sin, not wherein we recognize the virgin birth of Jesus. Glad that’s out of the way.
Being a Holy Day we did what any good Catholic family did and got up at the rear crack of dawn, got dressed, and headed off to mass. Yes, we even remembered to bring our kids with us. In all seriousness, they always come to mass with us — every Sunday and Holy Day (and most weekdays when we go), every time, no exceptions. Alone, we have found that they are angels, cherubic even. Together sitting in a pew with a large congregation, we have found that they seem to find every single irksome quality in the other that one could imagine and dwell on it like a squatter on a mattress in a foreclosed house. So this happens roughly every single Sunday, Holy Day, and most weekdays. But we have found that there is one thing, the promise of which, gets them acting a little better. DONUTS! Think about it, Catholic mass rarely exceeds one hour. Just be good for Mommy and Daddy, kiddos, and you got this thing in the wax paper bag. All you have to do is be — Get off of that — be good for like a short little time and — I’m not kidding, get off of that! — and, where was I? Yes, they just have to make it through the — Lord God Almighty son! The altar rail is not a balance beam!
So this morning we headed to mass and promised once again: “If you can behave during mass you get a donut afterwards.” On this beautiful Saturday morning one of my two darlings paid heed to my words. After 53 minutes of sonny-boy’s antics, I was ready to seek a dispensation from Rome from the Sunday obligation on the grounds that it was harmful to my spirituality. “Son, why? Why can’t you behave at mass?” I asked, exasperatedly. “Um, ’cause I don’t like mass. Mass is boring.” I didn’t even try to stifle the words that came out next. “Maybe you’re boring, huh? Did you ever think of that?” What was I doing? It just takes practice. I remember that I hated piano lessons when I was a kid but my Mom made me go and I’m glad that I know how to read music now. In fact, I use it as a weapon to beat down the person next to me in the pew. “Honey, how did you know that song? Have you ever heard it before?” My reply? “Nope. I read the notes and I have perfect pitch. Eat it, lady.” After that exchange, it’s a wonder my wife still talks to me. But I digress… As the final strains of a very poor and soulless rendition of Immaculate Mary were fading I scooped my son up and carried him to the car. My daughter left on her own legs holding my wife’s hand. Sonny, though, had to be carried because he couldn’t grasp that his legs are not to be swung (how often do you hear that word?) at high velocity toward the knees of the people in the pew behind us when we’re all kneeling at the Eucharistic Prayer.
Heading home I knew I had to keep my promise for my word to have any weight. We pulled into the parking lot of a 7-11. It’s not Dunkin’ Donuts but it suffices for the purpose at hand. “Sweetheart? What kind of donut do you want?” I asked my little princess. In the rearview mirror I could see my son’s eyes pop open wide. “Um, Daddy?… Why didn’t you ask me what kind of donut I want?” “That’s because you can’t get one today. Your sister was good at mass.” I hadn’t finished the second sentence before the tears started. I felt like a complete jerk; but I had to stand firm on this one. Missing a donut is NOT going to kill him. I went in, picked out the donut she wanted, and returned to the car. Tears continued to flow and screams of “Mass is boring! I want a donut!” continued to fill the space. And then my little girl did something that at once made me very proud of her and also ticked me off because it deflated my parenting skills. As soon as she had a pause in the screaming and crying, she turned to her brother. She looked right at him, tore her donut in half, and said “Here, Benny, you can half some of mine.” “Tank you, Rita,” he said. And like that all was right. Lucky for him there’s another chance tomorrow…