Samantha Stephenson recounts a difficult morning at Mass with young children, pondering her impulse to wish for anonymity amid embarrassment.
My voice comes out in a low hiss, dripping with venom. My daughter’s defiant stare is a dagger that pierces my heart. The somber tones of the “Sanctus” beckon us to prayer, but I am paralyzed. I’m done.
In my third trimester, wrangling three kids under 6 at Mass is what it must feel like to be one of the roly-poly bugs my children flip onto their backs. My limbs are in constant motion, but it does no good. I wish I could just curl into a ball until the threat goes away.
Alas, today it is me and not the bug who falls victim to my children’s poking and prodding. But instead of testing with a long stick, today they’re testing limits. What happens if I dart out into the aisle when they’re not looking? our 2-year-old wonders. With his body.
The 3-year-old, meanwhile, is testing the limits of physics. How many hymnals can I add to this stack before it collapses? Noisily. Can my body really fit all the way under this pew?
It can’t. “I’m stuck!”
And now the whole church knows it.
Normally, I’d be amused by the fact that he managed to time his piercing cries for the miniscule moments of silent reverence as the priest slowly sits himself back after the homily.
Today, I am not. Handling. It. Well.
And so, it’s the 6-year-old that gets me. Her flat-out refusal to honor my request to meet some expectation so simple it not need be uttered turns out to be my last marble. Her steely eyes have transported it to another dimension, and in the absence of all my many marbles, there is nothing to hold back the emotions from spilling over.
Fat tears splatter on the ruins of the hymnal tower. Not tiny tears, either. This is no graceful trickle of regret, nor a shy pool peeking over the edge of eyelids. This is a hot hot, shameful flood of failure — the kind that spills out of one’s nose as well as one’s eyes.
I am a sight to behold.
Before I can sink further into this pit of hormonal self-criticism, it’s time for communion. My 6-year-old, shocked by the reminder that I have feelings, has reverted back to human form, but it’s too late. There’s no putting a finger in the dam. I’m crumbling.
We wade up the aisle, and for once I’m not grateful for this robust community. When we left California, it was only a hope and prayer that we might land amongst like-minded Catholic families. For the first time, I’m wishing away these friendships. I want my anonymity back.
I shift my veil forward, hoping it covers my face and shields me from facing their concern, from being made to endure vulnerability.
I take Communion. I recover. I laugh later as we all eat together in the cathedral basement.
I know the veil is not for hiding. At least, not permanently. It’s not meant to be a wall. It’s meant to cover that which is sacred. It’s meant as a sign of the dignity of what is underneath.
And, at the right time and the right place, it’s meant to be removed.
Maybe I’m not ready yet. But soon.
Lord, help me to unveil my heart.
Copyright 2022 Samantha Stephenson
About the Author
Samantha Stephenson is a Catholic wife and homeschooling mama of four, host of the podcasts “Brave New Us” and “Mama Prays,” and author of Reclaiming Motherhood from a Culture Gone Mad. Follow her blog at MamaPrays.com or sign up for her newsletter at FaithandBioethics.com to receive the latest updates on medical research, technology, and culture.