This question stopped my dead in my tracks one day. "Mom, what religion are we?"
“Uh, why do you ask, honey, who wants to know?” I queried, choking on my indulgent gulp of Pinot Noir.
“I don’t know. Some kids were talking about God and stuff at school and Tyler asked me. I told him I’d tell him tomorrow!” he casually informed me.
I was raised Roman Catholic. I went to a Catholic elementary school – a very, very strict one. We were disciplined regularly with corporal punishment. One ill-timed giggle heard or one bored-to-death eye-roll seen by a nun teaching catechism and you’d quickly be reminded that no shenanigans were tolerated.
“Mary!! Would you please come to the front of the class and share with all of us what you find so amusing?!" Sister Angela Commando ordered.
Once my trembling legs finally carried me to the front of the class, I would be told in no uncertain terms to, “lay your hand flat on my desk…NOW!” Out came the ruler, and if she happened to be in a forgiving mood, you’d only suffer two quick blows to your knuckles. We learned quickly not to hesitate when asked, and not to cry once the punishment was carried out. Either one garnered at least one more swat and with much more velocity (and a much wider grin) by Sister Hellonearth.
On Friday afternoons when my friends who attended public school were being released from classes for the weekend, we were attending The Stations of the Cross which took, at minimum, an hour. For those who don’t know, suffice it to say it’s a labor of love performed by Catholics whereby you visit each station – there are 14 – each one a carving or picture on the walls of the church depicting Jesus and his torturous journey on the day of his crucifixion. Prayers are said, tears are shed, and bladders bulge at each station while viewing the gruesome depictions of each event. We all deplored going.
After eight years of elementary school, and a year away at an all-girl Catholic boarding school, I'd had enough. Once home again, I refused to accompany my mother to church on Sundays. I was 14, she knew arguing with me was futile. That was the end of my relationship with the Catholic religion.
Somehow in the hustle and bustle of raising a family – working, doctor’s appointments, vet appointments, school, after-school events and activities, trapping our Houdini hamster – it had never come up until now. I had no answer for my son. So, I did what any good mother would do in a situation of such profound gravity – I quickly guzzled my bottle of Pinot Noir.
I realized this required an actual away-from-TV conversation with my son. I called him into the living room and asked him to sit on the couch with me so we could talk. “Mom, if this is about that religion stuff I really don’t care. I don’t want to sit and talk. My favorite show is on!” he shrieked. Fueled by the realization (and the Pinot Noir) that this conversation could well impact the rest of his life, I forced him to sit. And stay.
“Honey, we aren’t any religion. There are all kinds of them. Do you know any of them?” I asked sheepishly.
“Yeah, Tyler isn’t part of one either. He said his dad and hates church and has to watch football on Sunday. His mom gave up so she stays home and cries and cleans stuff. Casey said her parents are Jewish and they tried to go one time but she threw up the whole time they were there so they decided not to ever go back.”
Thanks to Tyler, Bryan, and Casey, I knew this was something he was not going to want to pursue. I realized things weren’t nearly as bad as I'd thought they'd be and that reenacting the Stations of the Cross wasn't going to be necessary.
I have to admit, I was somewhat disappointed. At this particular time in our lives, my Irish husband was sporting a full beard and very long hair and would have made a fabulous Jesus. But the cost of materials, auditioning family members to play the other characters (which would have certainly ended in drunken brawls over the most coveted parts), and a certain lack of interest on my husband’s part made the entire production a pipe dream.
I would, of course, have played Mary. I'd already envisioned myself in one of my floor-length peasant skirts, an extraordinary arrangement of scarves draped from my head and shoulders, and my now yellowed wedding veil covering my head and face. I would have been the most devout and pious Mary ever. Plus, everyone knows wine was the only beverage available back then. But, alas, I digress.
I asked my fidgeting boy if he had any questions. He responded, “Don’t you get in trouble if you’re in church and you have to pee or poop? One of my friends said you have to hold it or you make a sin.”
I thought for a second, remembering to choose my words carefully, their gravity could weigh heavily on him, perhaps for the rest of his life. His spiritual future was in my hands, along with my ever-present glass of wine, and I righteously exclaimed, “YES! Yes, my son! It’s all true. You do have to hold it and YES, you do make a sin if you get up to go to the bathroom!”
Other than offering up the Golden Rule – do unto others as you would have them do unto you –which sounded very church-y, some discussion about being kind to “all living things, all creatures great and small” (also kind of church-y sounding), and tossing in the word "dogma," that was the conclusion of our theological discussion.
I think it went quite well.