Ever since I got pregnant, I knew I would have the baby baptized, for the obvious reasons:
1. Babies dressed in uncomfortable garb while squirming under a deluge of water should be a spectator sport
2. The party afterward = food
3. Finally, a legitimate excuse to have Riley dunked (provided the church I choose goes that route)!
And also maybe I have some personal reasons as well, but getting into that would be bo-oooo-ring.
Henry, on the other hand, is quite opposed to this and has voiced several times that he doesn’t care what I decide to do, but not to expect him to support me. As a non-practicing Catholic, he said he’d feel like a hypocrite. Why? I don’t.
Surprisingly, this hasn’t sparked many blow-outs with us. If it were political, I’d have undoubtedly broken his glasses (again) with my right hook.
After discussing the situation with the priest across the street, he signed me up for the baptism class and recommended that I bring one of the godparents, since the class was going to be full of couples and I’d likely feel uncomfortable.
Wait, what? I had to go to a class? You mean I couldn’t just march the kid into a church and have a priest plop him into a fountain?
I couldn’t find anyone to go with me. I didn’t even want to go! Because really, church and me? Seriously? I would rather be pooped on by Henry’s gross ex-wife. But getting the baby baptized is surprisingly important to me, and I knew that by attending this class, I was proving that I was serious.
After spending two weeks moping around the house with a heavy bottom lip, I scored myself a side-kick for the class in the form of our very own Hoover. He was quick to reiterate that he was still not on board with the baptism, though.
At noon on Sunday, we slid into the second pew from the front of the baptism classroom and watched as the teacher–Cindy–began rustling through papers, making her last minute preparations. I immediately felt an urgent desire to laugh.
I’m one of those Inappropriate Laughers. I’ll erupt at a moment’s notice in the most solemn of places: churches, funeral homes, abortion clinics. I know I’m not alone in this, either. Henry gave me a toothpick to jab into my thigh to quell the giggles, although he first offered to do it himself.
The silence was stifling. I didn’t know where to lay my eyes. I kept staring at the pattern on Cindy’s dress, but she caught me a few times and I have a feeling she thought I was a lesbian and Henry was my skirt. Better than thinking, “Ew, that doofus sired her son? Poor baby.”
I wondered what the class would be like. I imagined there would be some Holy water flicking and maybe one of the couples would be a dear and come bearing homemade cookies. Simulated baby dunking, if we were lucky. But I would quickly find out that baptism class was really just a facade for Cindy to spend an hour beating into our heads just how fantastically in tune with Christianity her daughter is and how her son has a remarkably high IQ.
I picked at my cuticles for the next five minutes, and still no one else had arrived. Cindy decided to start without the others and passed over a sign-in sheet, which Henry refused to sign.
Cindy then asked her 10-year-old daughter Sophie to stand at the podium and start off the class by reading the Parent’s Prayer. Relieved that we weren’t going to be strong-armed into reading out loud with her, I got comfortable in the hard wooden pew as Sophie started reading. And stuttering. And fumbling over words. And completely rearranging the order of words. I wanted to slap her in the back of the head and yell, “SPIT IT OUT, KID!” Henry, sensing my annoyance and growing anger, hissed, “She’s only 10!” I didn’t care! I could read better than that when I was ten!
When she finally finished butchering the eight paragraphs (is that what you would call the individual clusters of Christlike adulation?), Cindy beamed and praised her for a job well done. I choked back the bile.
“I want to talk specifically for a minute about the one line of this prayer,” Cindy announced, still wearing her church-appointed fake smile. It was a line talking about teaching our children not to lie and cheat. Cindy pulled out the big guns in the form of an anecdote. Ooh, I was shivering with anticipation. “Just recently, we came back from Disney World. Now, while we were there, we could have lied and said that Sophie was only nine so she could get in at a cheaper admittance price, but we didn’t want to set an example of lying to get something we want. Right Sophie?” Sophie cocked her head and smiled tightly at us.
Oh my god, I really hated her.
Cindy went on to gush about Sophie’s work in the church.
“She’s filling in for an altar boy on vacation, so she’s really been able to see how mass works from behind the scenes, right Sophie?” Big deal. Sophie remained in the front of the classroom with her hands on her hips as her mom continued to stroke her ego.
What a smug bitch.
I wondered how much longer we’d have to sit here and watch their Happy Valley dog and pony show when a haggard-looking woman padded into the room. Henry gave me a squinted side-long glance as he noticed that she was alone.
Next, Cindy asked us why we wanted to have our children baptized. “We’ll start over here,” she decided as she looked at me.
What?! No one told me there was going to be a Q&A session.
“Uh…because I was baptized. And it’s like, the right thing to do?” I suddenly became aware that my answer would only have sounded worse if recited by Butthead himself.
I white-knuckled the edge of my seat, waiting for Cindy to shake her head sadly and say, “No, I’m sorry. Wrong answer; you fail. Now get the hell out of my class. Oh–and may the Lord be with you.” Instead, Cindy looked at me with the pity generally reserved for three-legged dogs.
“Yes, OK. So, because of tradition, right? That’s certainly not a wrong answer.” Then why was she making me feel like it was wrong? She turned her attention to Henry, who irritably mumbled, “I’m with her!” His reply was barely audible over all the hostility radiating from it. She skipped over him for all the other questions.
I rolled my eyes when she asked the single woman at the end of our row what her reason was and we had to sit through a veritable dissertation. I felt so out of place.
Soon, another single woman rolled on in. And another. And another. Henry’s scowl was deep-set and animosity was rolling in waves off his skin. Once again, I couldn’t stop laughing.
After getting the newcomers up to speed, Cindy decided to hurl another pop quiz our way. Something about what could we do as parents to instill faith into our children. She looked at me expectantly. I mumbled that I would take the kid to church.
Cindy gave me that look again and reiterated my answer in case those in the back didn’t quite hear just how lame it really was. Then she steepled her fingers and said that yes, going to church was certainly an obvious route to take. She was clearly digging for some profound spiritual example and I was unsure that she was going to find it within the motley crew gathered together that day.
I was wrong.
There was a woman sitting in the pew behind us, and when it was her turn to answer Cindy’s stupid question, she closed her eyes and said, “You know, I learn more about faith from my children than I could ever teach them myself. Every time my daughter hears a bell, she says a prayer.”
Don’t Erin. Oh god, don’t laugh.
Cindy stopped dead in her tracks and clutched the back of a pew. “That gave me goosebumps,” she announced, as though the woman had sung a hymn in the dulcet tones of an angel, rather than simply answering a question. Cindy rubbed her arms for effect.
This class was a piece of shit. I started to get restless and began to rifle through our handouts. There was a dated booklet about the religious aspects of being a parent and it featured pictures of real life families. There was a shot of one child with a bowl cut and thick-framed glasses who particularly tickled my funny bone. My body convulsed in amusement as I realized that the kid bore a striking resemblance to a young Hoover. Then I noticed the headline of that page said Raising Special Children.
Jesus, I’m a bad mom. No one wants to hear that their child resembles Henry.
Finally, the end was drawing near and Cindy’s husband Sam–who appeared to be running on the fumes of last night’s alcohol binge–ushered us into a classroom down the hall, where two rows of miniature chairs were set up in semi-circles. I was happy that I was able to successfully plant my ass on the chair without my cheeks dripping over the sides. Sam pressed ‘play’ on the VCR and we all sat back to watch Bishop Wuerl, circa 1988, walk us through a real life baptism. It was fifteen excruciating minutes of him narrating over top of scenes from a baptism, interspersed with shots of him in his Bishop-y costume, clasping his hands in front of a bookshelf which was no doubt filled with books about praying and swindling money from parishioners.
Quickly, I lost interest in that nonsense. Instead, I busied myself by taking inventory of the best educational toys from the ’70s, housed in ragged boxes held together by masking tape and stacked haphazardly on a shelf next to my seat. Maybe when I start attending church, my monetary offering will go toward upgrading the flashcards.
When I start attending church. I love saying that over and over in my head.
“…and then the priest anoints the godparents….”
The Bishop was on his ninth “and then.” I was waiting for the “…and then the end.” Would it ever come? That Christ-hugger Cindy said that it was a “short” video. To me, short is two minutes. Anything longer than that and I’m lost in a land of spittle and undulating hot dogs.
Ooh, birdie outside the window!
Jesus Christ, I couldn’t stop staring at Hoover’s head, which looked like the prize-winning gourd at the county fair.
“…and then comes the part of the ceremony where the priest performs an exorcism…”
Wait…what? Way to lasso my attention, Bishop Wuerl.
And so the video segued into the section about Original Sin and cleansing the soul. I was captivated as, over and over again, Bishop Wuerl said things like, “..expel the darknesssss.” This creepiness was certainly unexpected in a video about a fucking baptism.
The video ended and Sam presented us with a certificate praising us for completing baptism class. That almost made up for not attending high school graduation.
I ran for the door and as soon as my feet hit the pavement of the parking lot, my tongue tripped over itself as all the comments I had held back for the past hour came racing out past my teeth. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to distract Henry, who immediately began to berate me for dragging him to a class full of single women when he could have stayed at home and jacked off over his hair cut.
“Darknessssss.” Ooh, it still makes me shiver!
Later on that afternoon, while licking a soft-serve ice cream cone laden with crunchies, Henry said thoughtfully, “That lady—Cindy—was hiding something.” Like what? The fact that she didn’t really recite the Parent’s Prayer every night? Sophie’s on the pill because she can’t keep her legs closed?
Ever since the class, I’ve been dangling water bottles above Riley’s head so we can practice for the big day, but then Henry gets all, “OMG no!” on my ass and rips the bottle from my hand.
The baptism will be the first time I’ve entered a church since I was seventeen.
[Originally posted July 2006]