Desperately seeking a way to make Christmas more meaningful to my kids this year, and flat out refusing to buy one of those trendy “The Elf on the Shelf” thingies, I signed up my kids to be in the Live Nativity at my church this year.
In hindsight, maybe not such a good idea.
But in theory, it seemed like a great opportunity at the time.
My church does it every year. They set up 8 different scenes outside and a guide leads groups through a candlelit tour of the Christmas story. The thing lasts for 3 and 1/2 hours as groups are ushered through the 8 scenes, one after another. Last year over 700 people waited in line for upwards of an hour to be lead through this dramatic recreation. It is a huge deal at my church, and throughout my community in general. The newspapers usually come, as well as people from other parishes near and far.
Until this year, the powers-that-be have cast only high school students in all the roles. This is the first year they opened it up for the whole parish. So naturally, I jumped at the chance for my overly dramatic six year old daughter, “Mini-Me,” to be in the choir of angels celebrating the birth of Jesus in song. I was totally fantasizing about the cute pictures and videos we’d get of her hanging out with Mary and Joseph in the stable, her little wire halo askew. And I thought she would LOVE it. This is a girl who loves the spotlight. She sings more than she talks. Her natural form of locomotion is a sashay/kick ball change. And isn’t it our job as parents to give them experiences that will help them discover and develop their natural talents?
But maybe six years old is not developmentally ready to stand outside in the bitter cold for 5 hours dressed like an angel and singing Joy to the World over and over and over. Yes, over the past 48 hours I learned precisely why this event has been limited to teenagers in the past.
First, let me just say that we are having a record breaking cold spell here in North Georgia. Two days ago it never got above the freezing point – all day. That is very rare here, and one of the reasons I have chosen this area for my home. Bitter cold… remember that now. It’s important.
So Mini-Me was assigned to the final scene (#8)… the big climax when Mary and Joseph are in the stable, awaiting the birth of Baby Jesus so they can place him in the straw-filled manger. For whatever reason, the director of the event assigned me to be the “behind the scenes” adult for scene 5, in which Kind Herod tells the Magi to report back to him when they find the newborn King. I don’t know why I didn’t insist that I be assigned to the same scene as Mini-Me, except to say that when we arrived for the first practice three days ago and I saw what a hectic, disorganized cluster bonk this whole production was, I didn’t have the heart to make a special request to the clearly overwhelmed director who definitely had her hands full. Did I mention that there were 108 people involved in the show and that there were going to be live animals in some of the scenes?
Yeah. So, we showed up for the first practice on December 21st, which was just an indoor script run through. I figured I’d be pretty close by if Mini-Me needed me, and that the director must have had a reason for separating us, so I didn’t challenge it. Mistake #1.
That night we braved the mall crowds to purchase a halo and wings at a local party store. Shopping at this time of year is NOT for wimps. Further proof that crazy, overcompensating parents like me will do anything for our children. Oy.
The next night, December 22, we had our one dress rehearsal. I knew we would be outdoors from 5-7 PM and it was below freezing, so I dressed my little angel in lots of layers. Naturally, we were running late and I was scrambling to grab everything we needed and get her in the car with her white sheet and wings and halo. We were very rushed. This is nothing new for my kids, and they constantly impress me with their ability to quickly transition from one thing to another without fuss. They are pretty used to compensating for their crazy Mama. Really good kids.
So we got to the dress rehearsal and had to wait around for a long time in the social hall until our two scenes were rehearsed. We were totally overdressed in way too many layers to be inside, but I didn’t want to take any layers off since we’d be outside at any moment with snot-cicles forming from our noses. We were hot. We were cranky. And we were surrounded by about fifty other hot, cranky, undersupervised children running amok while their stage-motherish moms sat and gossiped and yelled things across the room like “Tyler! Stop hitting your brother with that stick! It is a shepherd’s staff… not a light saber!” It was pretty chaotic, and quite an anticlimactic “hurry up and wait” period of time.
At one point Mini-Me asked me, “What if I have to go to the bathroom?” To which I inquired, “Do you?” and she emphatically said, “No. Just wondering.”
“Are you sure? Because I can take you right now. There is a bathroom right over there. This would be the perfect time to go since we are just waiting around.”
“No Mama. I’m fine. I don’t have to go.” Mistake #2. Here’s a parenting tip for those of you as stupid as I am: never, never, never “ask” if they have to go when you have a calm minute before the storm. Just take their stubborn clueless ass into the nearest loo and force them to go. And if they ever randomly ask you anything potty-related, they are clearly thinking about it and therefore probably have to go. Duh. Still can’t believe what a moron I am. You know where I’m going with this, don’t you?
Well, my scene was coming up, so I asked another Mom I knew there to keep an eye on my little angel while I was out blocking my scene, and she said she would and that her 11 year old daughter would help babysit. I introduced them all to each other and thought I had done my parenting part for the time being.
I went outside when my scene was called and stood around with the adorable Magi with the towels on their heads and the arrogant, uncostumed teen who played King Herod and didn’t even have the decency to know his lines or even have a script nearby from which to read. Sheesh. The “We Three Kings” CD that I would have to start and stop on cue wasn’t ready, the lighting wasn’t ready, and the kids were all very cold and unenthusiastic. We’d be doing this scene LIVE the next night for three and a half straight hours. I was definitely having my doubts as to how we would be able to pull this off.
I was only gone for about 20 minutes.
As I was walking back into the social hall the mother I had asked to keep an eye on Mini-Me approached me in nothing short of a panic.
“I’m so sorry!” she blurted. “I had to step out for my scene and my daughter didn’t realize that your daughter was in the bathroom.”
“What happened?” I tried to ask as calmly as possible. For Chrissakes – spit it out, woman! WHAT HAPPENED!
“Well apparently your daughter is in the bathroom crying. She’s been in there for about 20 minutes. She wet her pants. Poor thing, couldn’t get the angel costume off in time. She’s pretty upset.”
I quietly knocked on the bathroom door and walked in, and there she was, standing above a puddle of pee, shaking and crying so hard that she was having a hard time catching her breath. Her eyes were red. Her cheeks were completely tear streaked and snot was running down her face. Her angel costume was completely in disarray, like she had truly put up a good fight trying to get it off so she could get to the toilet. I could see with one glance that she was utterly and completely humiliated.
My heart broke. Literally, I felt it seize up and shatter into a million little pieces.
I hugged her and rocked her and did a quiet “shh-shh-shh” in her ear for what seemed like a lifetime, brushing her hair out of her wet face with my hands and kissing her red cheeks. Her pants and long johns and socks and shoes were completely soaked through. She was cold and uncomfortable and frustrated. I wiped up the puddle on the floor as best as I could with paper towels and calmed her to the best of my ability, and then we exited the little powder room into the main social hall. The Mom I knew rushed up and apologized profusely. Naturally, I knew I didn’t have a change of clothes in my car, so there was no way to just clean her up and go on with the dress rehearsal. Besides, this poor little lamb was so far gone and distraught that I just wanted to get her home and into a hot bath.
Oh my God, the guilt. That poor child. She must have been so scared, standing alone in that bathroom for that long. How could I have left her like that? Why on Earth didn’t I have her go potty before we left? Why didn’t I insist that she go while we were waiting for our scenes? Why did I consent to be in a different scene from her? Why did I think that a six year old could handle an epic dramatic production? Why did God allow someone like me to breed? It is moments like this that make parents question everything.
Did Mini-Me recover? Did we return the next night to fulfill our destiny as part of the cast? Will I ever forgive myself for being such a shitty parent? Will I bring a tray of Vulva Candies to the cast party? Tune in next time for the dramatic conclusion to this intriguing tale of wonder and faith… The Bearded Iris’s Christmas Spectacular on Ice!
To read part 2 of this crazy tale, ASSuaging the Guilt, click here.