Last night it was my husband’s turn to take our eight-year-old twin daughters to bed. In recent years, our bedtime routine has been downgraded from a full-on vaudeville act which included singing, dancing, and occasional joke telling, to a leisurely tuck-in full of questions ranging anywhere from “Can we paint our room black?” (No.) to “Is God real?” (Um???) Last night, the latter happened, and had it been me in the room, had I been the one to receive the God question, I might have been okay with what happened. But it was not me. And I was not alright.
I was born on a Sunday, and we all missed mass that day.
When my daughters were born, we made the decision to not have them baptized. They’ve never stepped foot in a church, and up until the age of five they believed our local churches to be mystical castles. They’ve heard about religion, specifically the Catholic tradition, from grandparents and various community members, but they’ve never been formally instructed by any stretch of the imagination. Then, at the age of four, my grandmother decided to introduce them to Ba, my long-dead grandfather. And with that came heaven, because how could I look at their faces and tell them that Ba was simply no more? Because how could I believe that myself? Because how could I allow them to be so jaded at four years old that they believe nothing but blackness waits for them at the end of this light we call life? Because it was 2:30 on a Monday and I was in a hurry to shuttle them from school to piano and to make dinner and do homework in between. And because heaven was easy.
My grandmother wrapped a rosary around her wrist and prayed for my grandfather’s return. I hung rosaries from my preteen neck and pretended to be Madonna.
When I was twelve, I asked my father if I could “drop out” of my Roman Catholic instruction. He sat on the edge of my bed with particles of light in the sunbeams around him. I told him I didn’t believe in God, or heaven, or Jesus, or any of it. He told me faith is walking off a cliff and knowing someone will be there to catch you. No one has ever been there to catch me.
When I was marrying my first husband, we were married in a church by a Catholic priest who was later revealed to have a fetish for the feet of underage girls, and I told him what I knew he wanted to hear. Yes, I believe in the institution of marriage. Yes, I will honor and obey. Yes, yes, yes. We divorced eighteen months later.
Father Penn told my second-grade Sunday school class that Satan was making us yawn during his sermon, and that we should resist Satan and all of his ignorance by staying awake.
When I found out about the children killed at Sandy Hook Elementary, the children who were exactly the same age as my children, I called my mother with hysteria in my voice and sobs in my throat. I don’t know what to do with this, I don’t know where to put this. I would have given anything for a jar marked ‘FAITH’ in which to pour that pain.
The most religious person I know is my grandmother, who believes with equal conviction that a Scorpio rising sign has more of an influence on your physical appearance than genetics.
Before my girls were born, I swore that as a mother I would “breastfeed, use cloth diapers, and smile a lot.” None of those things happened. I also swore that I would debunk the Santa Claus myth early, not spend money on Christmas presents, never let my kids have soda, and be painstakingly honest most of the time. I just finished ordering two Kindle Fires to place under our tree from Santa, and I’m pretty sure one of my daughters is hooked on Pepsi. And now, they think their great-grandfather is walking around on a cloud somewhere in the sky. And it isn’t that horrible after all, because I’d like to think he’s there too. So, maybe talking to my kids about God isn’t the end of the world. Maybe the best religion is made up of the bits and pieces that work for each of us. What would my life had been like if, during that faith conversation, my father had said he didn’t know? That he was confused too, and that it was okay to be uncertain. Would I have been the better for it? Or would I have struggled more, not having something-real or not- to grab onto in the face of a storm?
There are no stupid questions, only stupid answers.
What happened last night was the inevitable. “The girls asked if God is real,” my husband said.
Him: And what? I told them that I don’t believe in God.
Me: And what did they say?
Him: They said they don’t either.
And an incredible sadness welled up inside my belly, where they once lived, where I rubbed them, and sang to them, and prayed to God for them.
If there was ever a moment I believed in God it was when I first held them in my arms.