Toddler on the altar

At church yesterday, I shared the podium with a woman about my age and a tiny girl with pigtails. I was singing the psalm while the Grandma was doing the readings. We don’t usually bring companions to the altar, but the girl was too young to leave alone in the pew.

I found it hard to concentrate on the Bible passages while this adorable child was hiding behind the podium, so small she was invisible to most of the congregation. Grandma did the first reading, I sang my song, and then Grandma got up for the second reading. Just about then, the girl started whispering, “I have to go potty!” To emphasize the urgency, she literally crossed her legs. I thought, Oh Lord, don’t let her go to the bathroom on the altar. Read fast, Grandma. In fact, let me read it so you can take her out.

At that moment, I did not envy the woman’s predicament. Being the lector is kind of a high-pressure job. It’s hard to maintain the proper solemnity with a potty-driven toddler hanging off your legs. But she did finish the reading, and the child held her water.

A while later, when I was back at the piano, I saw the woman holding the child against her breast, rocking her. She wore an expression of such contentment. Once again, I thought, “Damn!” (yes, I know, cursing at church) I will never have that. No grandchildren to bring to church and hold in my arms.

I do have step-grandchildren, both young adults now. But we never got that close. We never lived nearby and there were real grandmothers at hand. I was uneasy around small children, not knowing what to do. But the biggest reason we didn’t get close was my husband’s reluctance to make the connection. He did not enjoy small children and felt he had done the fatherhood thing with his first wife. Not only did he not want to have kids with me, but he didn’t feel any drive to connect with his grandchildren. I think it would have been good for all of us, but it just didn’t happen.

It’s funny. I never used to be comfortable around children, but now I’m starting to yearn for their company. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older. Perhaps I need to volunteer somewhere that will let me get close to children, closer than I get now singing for the kids in the religious education program. Close enough to hold a child in my arms. Do you know what I mean?

If you’re struggling with not being a mother, do you think about what it will be like to not be a grandmother?

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