Note: I wrote this about three years ago. Things haven't changed much since then, except that in our new neighborhood, she has plenty of other children to organize, so we're not needed any longer.
We sit in a compliant row on the bed, prisoners to a six-year old.
I’m in the middle, squeezed in between two teenaged brothers, who must be continually poked and shushed and generally reminded to swallow their laughter and keep their smart remarks to themselves.
Katie is in charge, with a vengeance.
You see, she has discovered the concept of saint’s feastdays, and has seized upon it as yet one more opportunity to gather everyone in the vicinity and exert control over them.
When she was three, it was school. We’d sit on the couch and she’d teach us the alphabet and Bible verses in that twang she picked up from her Church of God preschool teachers, march us to nap and write our names on the board when we were bad. It will be undoubtedly be a lifelong wound in her brothers’ souls that their names rarely left the board, while the imaginary girls (and me) in the class received nothing but beatific smiles from Miss Katie.
Then she graduated to tea parties, as you’d expect, which usually ended up in arguments like these.
“Would you like some tea?”
The brother decides to be difficult, as any self-respecting brother would, seated in between a teddy bear and a stuffed rabbit.
“No. I want hot chocolate.”
v “We don’t have any.”
“You don’t have tea either. You’re pretending. So pretend you have hot chocolate.”
“WE - DON’T -HAVE- HOT- CHOC’LATE! MOM! DAVID’S BEING MEAN!”
Most bizarre of all are Katie’s meetings. Doubtless rooted in the reality that one or the other of her parents were constantly heading off to meetings in the evening, Katie decided a couple of years ago that it would be just a fine, even necessary things to have periodic meetings with her family.
Her most famous meeting occurred a couple of years ago at Christmas, when she met with her visiting grandmother for close to an hour concerning important events that had recently occurred and the business she had intended on starting and culminated in a tour of the house in which Katie pointed out the exact spot in the dining room where her mother was buried. Gulp.
I sometimes attend performances of our local symphony orchestra down here in Lakeland, and every concert is preceding by the enthusiastic ravings of the symphony’s general manager, an ample young woman, impeccably coifed and gaudily dressed, who waves around huge nutcrackers we’re supposed to buy raffle tickets for, gets us revved up for next season’s concerts and warns us that we can’t dare miss the educational programs that precede each concert, either, programs led by - her - of course.
Every time I see this woman in action, I just lean back in my seat and mournfully think -
That’s my daughter. In twenty years, that’s her.
Back to the saints.
Katie has, of course, besides being an expert teacher, hostess and facilitator, shown her colors as a ritualist of some renown from an early age, beginning with her before meal prayers.
Her older brother Christopher, having been born first, held the role of grace-leader for years before Katie invaded the scene. He quickly developed a prayer that, to this day, thirteen years after he first voiced it, has become the groundrock of what little family religious ritual we have:
“God, thank you for this food. We love you and we love each other. Amen.”
When it’s his turn to say grace, this lumbering, endlessly growing young man still, believe it or not, falls back on that prayer he invented in toddlerhood.
The next child, David, adopted his brother’s table prayer, but showed his creativity at bedtime.
Once, when he was six, wrapped up in warm pajamas and curled up ready for sleep, David buried his face in his hands during nighttime prayer and murmured,
The unlikely thought occurred to me that perhaps he had learned about Purgatory in school and was praying for the composer’s soul. I asked, “Why do you want to pray for Beethoven?”
In utter and complete seriousness, he replied, “That he’ll get his hearing back.”
Not to be outdone in the name-dropping-during-prayer department, his older brother added his own plea for healing. For Joe Montana’s arm.
But Katie, being perhaps the most talkative child in the history of the human race ( when she was five, I took a walk with her with the express purpose of seeing how long she could talk without stopping. We walked a mile. I never said a word. She never shut up.) - proved her much superior praying mettle very early on.
From the age of three, she could, and deeply wanted to, at any opportunity, pray spontaneously.
I suppose it was one of the questionable benefits of attending an evangelical preschool.
There got to be a period of time, if we were not careful, we would be treated to lengthy discourses that began with an order to “close your eyes and bow your heads!”
“Dear Fawder,” she would begin, with her eyes roving the table top, taking in what she needs to include in this day’s grace, “Sank you for the good milk, the good chicken, the good noodles.”
Next was an even clearer imitation of her teachers, who were obviously familiar with religion as a tool for social coercion.
“And we all take a good nap and go sleep and not get off our mats, and we not cry like the babies in the baby room and we not hit.”
The boys, who began by hiding their faces in their hands and trying not to laugh, were by now eyeing the food on their plates longingly. They might even have tried to insert an “Amen” at this point. But Katie was not to be denied.
“”And David and Goliath, Goliath was mad and David got rocks and cut off his head and Goliath wasn’t Jesus, but Jesus love me and Jesus in my heart.”
Finally, I’d have no choice but to have pity on everyone and intercede. “Amen, Katie.”
“ANEM! YAAAY!!!!” And our presider would clap her hands in celebration, and we’d all say a silent prayer of thanks ourselves.
Now that she’s older, vastly more sophisticated and a student in Catholic, rather than Church of God schools, Katie has discovered ritual.
She has a children’s book of saints that mercifully only has a few select feastdays highlighted - for on those days, the child goes into a fever pitch of preparation for her celebration.
She rings the little ceramic bell with the American flag imprinted on it that one brother brought back from Washington for her.
We file in, putting change in a box she’s got hanging from a nail on the wall of her room. Lest you think she’s got a cunning little con game going here, know that she does, indeed, put the pennies and dimes in the collection basket at church the next Sunday.
Today is the feast of Elizabeth of Portugal. After the sign of the cross, Katie stands in front of us and attempts to read the story from her book, but stumbles over the foreign words, so I get to finish.
She then prays, concentrating today on the fact that it’s July 4, saying, “Thank you God so much that we’re free from England.”
In a burst of liturgical creativity (I can see her eyes wandering, searching, during my reading, so I know this was not part of the original plan) she distributes sea shells to each one of us, hands a cross to David, orders him to hold it up in the air while she reads a poem from yet another book -- about Zaccheus.
Amen . No women priests and no room for discussion says the Pope? Someone better tell Katie and it’s sure not going to be me. I might have to go to another meeting.
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