Here’s a long story;
My Cousins spent the night last night, we went to 2 Festivals in 2 different towns yesterday, then saw a movie, so it’s safe to say we were beat. This morning I learned that waking kids up for church is a completely different experience than just waking up yourself. Dakota is 16, so he’s perfectly capable of getting dressed and finding breakfast. It’s getting him out of bed that’s the chore. His sister Austyn is 9, and changed clothes so many times before we left, we were almost late. Sadie and I put cereal and bowls out, fed the dogs and the cats, and decided to let the horses and chickens fend for themselves. They would be alright until 12:30 anyway, right?
When I was growing up, my two sisters and I shared a bedroom next to my brother. We all shared the bathroom. Getting up, fed, dressed, and on the way to church was such an event, sometimes I wonder how we even made it in the first place. My parents worked as a team. Diligence and discipline were the themes on Sunday mornings, attributes they learned during time spent as a Naval Officer and a Lifeguard. They were fearless – which was a good thing, because I’ve heard that young children can smell fear.
If we needed to shower, we had 2 minutes. There were no “Hollywood Showers” as my Dad called them. “This ain’t no Hotel” was another phrase he adopted – because my mother would repeatedly pick up, wash, dry and fold the soggy towels we would leave behind. As we got older, we were responsible for getting ready on our own. But Sunday mornings were still chaos, getting us up and dressed with shoes to the car was something like herding cats.
I remember how effortlessly my mother would emerge from the bathroom, hair neat, shoes matching, and makeup blended. She would breeze down the hallway, smelling like flowers, and head to the kitchen. Sunday breakfast was a ‘fend for yourself’ type of meal, because all the effort went towards Sunday Lunch. If there wasn’t a fight, meltdown, or crisis, she would spend the remainder of her morning tidying up the ice cream bowls or leftover dishes from last nights snack. Mom knew to unload and start the dishwasher before we left, wiping down the counters and table, and always had enough time to do so. She seemed to ‘prepare the runway’ if you will, for the incoming chaos that was “Mom we’re STARVING what’s for lunch feed us NOW” that accompanied a nice, family gathering at Church. I never saw her get dish water on her Sunday best. I never saw her hair out place or her face get flushed before we left. She was cool, calm, and ready to go, no matter what noise was coming from the bathroom.
What was going on in the bathroom was usually the beginnings of World War III. My poor brother, outnumbered by a gang of girls, had to scrap and fight for every second of solitude in that bathroom. If one of us was pushing our luck with a “Hollywood Shower”, he was most likely banging on the door, or trying to break in with one of the thousands of bobby-pins that fell to the floor. If he had finally, successfully made it to the shower, we were the ones banging, pleading, and bending precious pins in an attempt to break the lock. We destroyed that bathroom. There was water all over the floor from someone accidentally leaving the curtain out of the tub, there were wet towels left to die alone by the toilet, and usually a scrap or two of toilet paper on the floor. The sinks had minty green drops of toothpaste inside or on the counter, and the mirror was hit with a shrapnel of spit as we yelled at each other and fought for sink space. With 3 girls, you can imagine how much hair we left. Everywhere.
My Dad was the referee for these battles, delegating whose turn it was to do what before we left. By the time I staggered out of bed, with hair so tangled I sometimes just wore a hat, he had been up for hours. At some, unknown point before dawn, my Dad was a sleepy, yawning human. I never saw it, so I didn’t quite believe it. He was a machine. By the time I was even remotely close to becoming dressed, he had already been up, showered, shaved, dressed to the 9, and had finished breakfast: complete with hot coffee and yesterday’s paper. I can still hear the sound of his shined shoes echoing down the wooden floor of the hallway. He emerged ready like my mother, but smelling like cologne, not flowers.
The sound of his ready and “waitin’ on you” feet would pass the door around the time I was rolling over and pulling the covers back under my chin. People say I was not a morning person, but I was downright lazy. Especially on Sunday’s. I was the one who skipped the shower, skipped breakfast, and was the last one sprinting to the car barefoot (with morning breath) and hoping that a matching pair of shoes were under the seat somewhere, because I certainly had not made time to grab any. Amber, being the oldest, got it together pretty quickly. She would shower the night before and already have an outfit in mind. She was the one sitting at the table eating a well-balanced meal, and was in the car with her seat belt on when the car started, her Bible in her lap.
Becca and I were a little more frantic. Me because I was me, and Becca because she had a hard time making up her mind. We never knew what to wear. We would bargain chores and packs of gum for a chance to wear something of Amber’s, swearing anything we could think of for clothes that weren’t hand-me-downs or wallowing at the bottom of the laundry basket. Somehow there was only ever 1 hairbrush available on Sunday mornings. We fought over that too. One week I got brave and snuck into Mom and Dad’s quiet bathroom to borrow his brush, which was free of long hairs, and marveled over how dry the floor was, and that they had somehow found time to make their bed before we rushed off.
“Five minutes!” My Dad was the certified town crier and train conductor, all in one morning: “We’re leaving in FIVE minutes.” This called for renewed shouts for time in the bathroom and another furious scramble through piles of clothes to find something decent to wear. Becca and I usually made it to the car after my Dad had already started it, and my brother was trying to tell my Mom why boys don’t comb their hair to the side, or wear dress shoes, or tuck in their shirts because it just wasn’t cool.
The drive to church was typically quiet. My Mom sat poised in the front seat, her jewelry and painted nails catching the sunlight. My Dad stared at the road from behind his sunglasses, thinking the unknown thoughts of a Dad. Amber would apply fresh lip-gloss or unwrap a piece of the gum Becca or I had bartered, while her and I yawned and tried to get the sleep out of our eyes, or the last bite of a cold bagel down. Since us girls were wearing skirts or dresses on Sunday, my brother had to sit in the third row, which he hated. He would try and fix his hair or un-tuck his shirt before we got there.
When we arrived, Dad would sometimes let us off and go park. My mother would open the door for us, smiling, and greet the nursery coordinator or her assistant in Sunday School. William disappeared to I don’t know where, and us girls would find our circle of friends and comment on what each of us managed to find to wear that day. By then, my Dad had parked and removed his sunglasses, making him look less like a secret service agent and more like a Deacon or an Usher. He would grab one of us and say “Go carve out a row,” handing me or Becca his Bible, and turning to talk to another Dad in a suit about whatever it was Dad’s talked about.
Carving out a row was not a glamorous task. The carver had to stake our claim on 6 seats together before the aisle chairs filled up. I would take extra bulletins and place them in the chairs next to our Bible’s, hoping our seats would stay empty until it was time to sit down. Sometimes the row I chose wasn’t great, or Mom had already put her Bible down somewhere else, and I would have to clamor across strangers to retrieve the ignored place-savers I had left, scurrying over to the right row where everyone else was already sitting.
While we sang, my Dad would try and sing the girls part, making me laugh, and I’d want to try singing the guys verses – which I usually didn’t know. During the opening prayer, we would ask my Mom for ink pens, or gum or rubber bands, items that she produced from her purse with a flourish, a bright smile, and quiet jingle of her jewelry. We were permitted one trip to the bathroom during service, unless Becca spilled grape juice on her skirt from communion, in which case my Mom would get up and go with her. Amber would sit quietly, facing the Pastor, and my brother would draw tanks and battleships on the sides of his bulletin. I was either still asleep from laying in bed so late, or extremely fidgety from sitting so long. If we got too rowdy, Mom would sign for us to be still by laying a hand on our leg or arm. If we were still antsy, Dad would stare down the row of seats at us, and that was enough.
Once we were dismissed, the four of us would separate to different corners of the building. My brother and I would race across the grass, trying to burn off our energy, or we would wait by the door for our parents to emerge from whatever conversation’s they were having in the sanctuary. Once back in the car, it was shoes and belts off for us, and my Dad would whistle on the way home, or ask us what we learned from the sermon. When we got home, Mom had the oven and different stove eyes going before you could say “I’m hungry.” Forget changing clothes or reading the paper, why would Mom need to sit down and relax? Lunch was always spectacular.
Once everything was consumed, Dad would nod for us to begin clearing the dishes. Mom pretended to help, until we shooed her out so she could finally sit down and relax. William would put rock classics on the radio, and we’d try and save all the worst cleaning chores for someone else to do. Soon, the kitchen had as many puddles as the bathroom. Dad would return to delegate, and soon, the dishwasher was humming and the counters were clean again. From the couch, Mom would smile and say “That’s the sound of something getting done!” Then, everyone would nap: curtains drawn, ceiling fans on high. My parents took a nap every Sunday that I can remember. It’s a tradition that took me over 20 years to admire.
I was thinking of naps this morning, getting Austyn in her 4th outfit, toothbrush still in my mouth. My cereal had gone soggy so I dumped it in the sink. When Austyn asked to look in my closet for something to wear, I spit my toothpaste in the kitchen sink, trying not to wonder what minty captain crunch tasted like. She picked out a dress that was now a 3rd generation hand-me-down and off we went, shoes in hand, to go to church. I didn’t tell her how old the dress was, and when she asked me if she could keep it, I didn’t even ask for a piece of gum.