My daughter is dating a Baptist. Well, she says, he’s not really a Baptist. He was baptized into some Protestant denomination, and he attends a church that happens to be Baptist. In any event, he is non-Catholic. My daughter is 21, almost self-supporting, a woman on the verge of everything. She has adopted San Diego as her home. Her boyfriend is soft-spoken, attractive, kind. He is from the Midwest, and we try not to make fun of his slight Fargo accent. Being Californians, we think we have no accent. Until one ventures beyond home, no one has an accent.
But I digress. The point is that my daughter’s nice, transplanted boyfriend is not Catholic.
A childhood chant came back to me recently, not a holy one, but one from the church of outdoor games. During the long evenings of summer, we played hide-and-seek in the fading light, our innocuous hiding places becoming more ominous as they were enrobed in darkness. The person who was It chanted as a courtesy to those who were too slow witted or nervous to be hidden by the count of 50: Apples, peaches, pumpkin pie! Who’s not ready? Holler I’! Hardly any of us ever hollered. A holler, which would reveal location, was an act of desperation.
I’m hollering now, Lord. That’s me, hollering. I’m not ready to be the mother of adult children. Just when I thought I would always haul a diaper bag and a car seat everywhere I went, I found myself teaching daughters how to drive. Just as I thought I would always tuck girls in with bedtime stories and then feel small bodies in the wee hours slipping into my bed, I found myself dropping daughters off at college dorms, and renting apartments in other cities. In recent photographs, I am the one next to the vibrant and beautiful young woman. I am the one who looks like somebody’s mother. It has happened as quickly as I was told it would.
But back to my daughter’s sort-of-Baptist boyfriend. He looks so good to a mother who wants perfect men for her daughters. He actually goes to a Bible study class, rarely drinks, attends school, drives a safe car, lives in his own apartment and has a steady job. I can understand that she wants to keep him. My problem is that I secretly want to convert him.
On the phone she told me that she had gone to his church that Sunday instead of going to Mass. I could hear my voice go up an octave, even as I tried to stop it, as I said, "Oh?"
"It was great," she said. "All we did was sing songs and listen to the sermon. We didn’t have to do all that stand-up-and-kneel-down, over-and-over, boring Catholic stuff."
"You mean like the Eucharist?" I asked, more acidly than I intended.
"I knew I shouldn’t talk to you about this," she said. "Mom, this was interesting!"
Twelve years of religious education, and my daughter is no defender of the faith.
I want to blame myself: first, as the mother, who should have done more holy things around the house, who should have lit a hotter Catholic home fire; and second, as the parish director of religious education where she attended her confirmation classes, who should have held on tighter to post-confirmation students, who should have inspired a deeper hunger for the Eucharist, who should have at least recruited more exciting musicians. She seems to be slipping away.
My friends and I now have kids who are coming out of closets, going into depressions, giving birth in and out of wedlock, breaking hearts and mending broken ones, traveling to New Zealand, studying their brains out, dropping out of school, joining the Peace Corps, going to war. None of us is ready; but ready or not, here they come. They need love and advice and loans and help with car insurance. They move away, come home, move again, come back to visit. They amaze us with their resilience and flexibility and optimism. Their futures stretch farther than they can see, and they take another day and another chance for granted. They really think they will someday find what they want to be when they grow up, and have no idea that today, this day, is the day that they already are grown up. They don’t see the ladder formed by choices they have already made. Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans, John Lennon once sang. He was exactly right.
When I had those babies long ago, I thought being a mother meant I was in charge. I thought those babies would always look up to me and adore me and agree with me, even as I encouraged them to be independent thinkers. Which is what they have become.
On some days I think that things have really gotten away from me. On other days I know that I am planted where I am meant to be.
At least, says my husband, our daughter has a relationship with God, a God she loves and worships and seeks to serve, albeit right now in a non-Catholic way. And he’s right. We will always be hugely blessed in being her parents. She is an adult, and her spiritual decisions are hers alone, even if I still pray that someday God will guide her home. Perhaps, though, someday we may see a Baptist wedding, and little Baptist grandchildren, and that will be okay. We will turn our search engines to ecumenism and go through new doors.
I realize anew that in this challenging game of life, God is always It. We can pretend that we are It, but we are not. Ready or not, here I come! says God, and we can only have faith that, as imperfect, hollering hiders, we will indeed be found. Again and again.