I came home from church today, threw the diaper bag on the floor, curled up in my bed, and sobbed like an overwrought teenager.
Why? Because a lady at church told me I had a tag stuck to my coat.
Yep. That's it. A lady at church told me I had a tag stuck to my coat. And my perfectly reasonable response? Collapsing into a steamy tangle of sheets and hyperventilation.
But let me try to explain. It was one of those perfectly done up women, perfect makeup, perfect hair. I didn't even know the woman, had never seen her before. She made a special graceful trip down the corridor in her perfectly shiny five-inch heels just to pat me on the arm, smile radiantly, and remarked, "You've got a tag under your sleeve. New Christmas coat, huh?"
So of course I went home and cried!
And at this point most of my male readers are all scratching their heads and saying, "Huh?" And most of my female readers are too. (Though I hope there are a few of you out there who understand.)
So let me try to explain a little bit better. I have a special psychological disorder, as yet unrecognized in the DSM. It's called Sabbath-Induced Social Phobia. I start noticing the symptoms Saturday night. It starts with a little finger of dread stroking at the back of my mind. I start to realize that in just a few hours I will have to go to That Place again--that Church Place where there are People Who Might Judge Me. The finger moves to my brain, which immediately releases a flood of chemicals that make me feel overwhelmingly exhausted. I am too tired, I think, to possibly be able to attend church tomorrow. I start to think of ways to get out of my church responsibilities, consider calling people and asking them to substitute. This puts me in a dark spot, however, because calling people and asking them to substitute would involve calling people and asking them for something. Church people, no less. The scariest people on earth.
So obviously calling people is out of the question, which leaves me in a panicked state on Saturday night with two choices: go to church and face the Possibly Judgmental Church People, or flake out of my responsibilities and surely be judged harshly for my irresponsibility. I put off the final decision for as long as possible, often deferring until Sunday morning, telling myself I might be able to magically conjure up the courage to ask someone to substitute for me by then. This never happens, of course, so we all end up at church, usually about fifteen minutes late, and usually with Soren throwing some sort of tantrum as we make our way down the mostly empty hallway towards the chapel.
And that's when the disorder completely seizes my brain and robs me of all reason.
We sit down on the back row and I become keenly aware of the fact that Soren, despite coaching and teaching and prompting and encouragement and sometimes even threatening, still refuses to sit still and fold his arms during prayers. I notice that my children look somewhat disheveled, that I forgot to smooth down Liam's wild crib head, that Soren's vest has some loose threads hanging off it. I become aware of the pieces of lint stuck to Abe's suit. I remember that I wore the same dress last week. I notice that all the other women have perfectly styled hair and fashionable outfits, observe their neatly groomed and reverent children. As I am marveling at the fact that one woman could produce four perfect hairstyles in a single morning, Soren hits his brother, and people turn to look as Liam begins wailing loudly. We do our best to control our children but Liam starts to arch his back and holler while Soren insists on telling me in his loudest voice that he does NOT want to think about Jesus. And truth be told, I don't really want to think about Jesus either (though that's a WHOLE other bag of chips), which is another thing that makes me completely insufficient in that room packed with perfectly attractive devout believers who are capable of keeping their children under control.
So by the time Sacrament Meeting ends, I can barely stand to look anybody in the eye. I have become fully convinced that I am ugly, a horrible mother, irritating, inappropriate, awkward, and completely unlikable. That no one at church likes me, that they are all wishing they could take Soren and train him the way he should be trained, and that, worst of all, they think I smell weird.
I've been working in the nursery for the past year, which is both good and bad for my psychological freakiness. Good because I love little people and enjoy interacting with them. Also good because I know they don't care if I stink. Bad because I only interact with three other adults the entire rest of church, which means that I don't have a chance to interact with the other people and remember that they are neither as superior nor as judgmental as my brain has made them seem. Also bad because Soren is a wretched little brat during nursery. He clings to my legs while I'm leading music, he throws massive fits when I don't let him have his way, he clobbers other kids with toys, he refuses to share. I deal with this the best I can, but all of my own insecurities about my parenting are immediately projected onto the other nursery leaders (lovely, kind women), who must surely be convinced that I'm doing everything wrong. I tell myself that they understand, that they're not judging, that even if they are judging it's okay, no big deal, but the more visceral part of myself wants to throw my body at their feet and beg for mercy, sobbing and telling them that I promise I'm trying my very hardest, that I work really hard at guiding and teaching and disciplining my child, that he's difficult, and maybe someone else could do better, but I really am trying, so to please, please, please, please, please not judge me. Please.
So anyway, it was in this frame of mind that I wandered out into the church corridors, three-year-old in tow, toddler following behind in his uncle's arms, searching for my husband. I had just put on my brand new coat, a beautiful coat that my mom gave me for Christmas, and was feeling some consolation in the fact that, even if I sucked in every other way, at least I was wearing a pretty coat. It was like a shield, protecting me against the judgments of the Church People. It was the only thing keeping me safe while I roamed through halls literally crawling with them.
It was the only thing keeping me safe until The Beautiful Woman came.
But with her single remark, she was able to shatter my shield and leave me completely vulnerable. And it was more than I could take.
So I went home and cried.