If you are not familiar, we have attempted church with autism.
And though I have never given up hope, I have not been actively pursuing success since.
Today I felt hopeful and maybe even a little bottom of the barrel with no place to go but up. I got myself and the kids dressed for church and thought to myself what the hell, it’s worth a shot.
We pulled into the parking lot at church and RM was already directing us away from the church and toward the attached school cafeteria where she knows that young people like her brother collect there on occasion after school for catechism class. Actually, I am sure she only knows as much as the collecting there part. And oh yes, we have had some tragic drop-offs throughout the last two years when The Boy walked off into the crowd of students and RM was told we were not staying for the fun. But eventually, we could pull up to the curb alongside the cafeteria and she would say, “Bye, Brother! See you in the afternoon!”
So it was only natural that today she would want to go to the part of this place where she knew departure was temporary. Why on earth would she willingly go toward the building that is full of noise and people and music that rattles the ceiling? So I tempted her with the bait of her grandparents inside waiting for her (after I scanned the lot for their car because what a freaking horror show that would be if they didn’t go to church this day). RM flung herself onto the pavement a couple of times, but then saw Bapcia and Papa’s car. Now we were getting somewhere.
We made it to the doors of the church. We made it inside the doors. There was instantaneous screams of “NO!” but I calmly repeated several times that Bapcia and Papa were waiting for her. Then I simply scooped her up under her arms from behind, locked a death grip of intertwined fingers around her chest praying that I could do this with all 51 pounds of her and pushed my way through the line. I said excuse me about a dozen times, but people just don’t expect you to thrust yourself and screaming child into church.
I continued to carry her this way weaving through the aisles and rows searching for my parents. When I found my mother I have to say I appreciated the look of awe on her face to see us there. In church. On time. For the first time in four years.
We had arrived about five minutes before the mass started. It was a tense five minutes of setting up a chair alongside the edge of the room, behind a pillar, oddly feeling like a bunker of sorts. Her toes balancing all of her weight from left to right and left to right again and her fingers were now permanently implanted in her eardrums. It was hard to reach her to even tell her that I had the tablet in my backpack. Papa came and sat next to her. Then RM calmed for a moment. But it was short-lived as the lecturer welcomed the parish and began listing some announcements, finally asking everyone to rise.
We stood as the music began and the drums pounded along with the guitars and piano and the sound of a few hundred people singing along. Her fingers now blue from squeezing them into her ears with all her might, tears began streaming down her cheeks and beads of sweat took seat upon her nose – but she steadied herself and waited it out. When the song ended, so did her patience. She started screaming “NO! NO! NO! NO! NO!”
I had already gathered up our things, and told her it was time to go. I held my head high as we walked around the back perimeter of God’s House, fellow brothers and sisters staring, some smiling, some with the look of shock. And The Boy and I smiled at each other. At the back of this House, I stopped and turned to my son and gave him a kiss as we all took hands and walked out the door into the day.
Ten minutes. My baby girl made it into the church. My baby girl survived five minutes of anxiety getting settled in and then five more minutes of pure sensory hell from head to toe to endure the opening hymn. Ten minutes. Ten glorious minutes.
Every second of those ten minutes was a gift today.
I will take it.
And next time, I will enjoy eleven minutes. Maybe even more.