A while back, I found myself saying the most bizarre prayer. But I have to tell you the back-story because it was funny. Well, it was to me at least. I had taken Noah to church the first weekend of Advent. Scott stayed home with the other two kids because Luke was running a low fever and Gracie…well, Gracie is one-and-a-half. I don’t think much other explanation is needed. I wasn’t in the mood to sweat while chasing her at the back of the church. Anyway, we are not the best church-goers at this point in our lives but I do really enjoy church during Advent and no matter what ages the kids are, I try to go each week at this time. I love the lighting of the Advent wreath; the rich, soft smell of candle smoke that permeates the air. I love being able to sing Christmas songs at church. It makes me so happy to see the giving tree with tags for the less fortunate and people grabbing them after on their way to their cars- people really can be so generous! The gospel readings are full of hope and not so much doom and gloom. It’s just a tender, familiar feeling after I leave mass those weeks. Noah was very good that day, probably because I had bribed him with a visit to Leo’s Coney Island if he was a good boy during church. Now, for those not familiar with the many wonders of Michigan and who immediately associate our great state with cars, assembly lines, and drive-by shootings, I am pleased to report that when we are not piecing together car engines or loading our A.R.s, we do enjoy an occasional meal at one of the many Coney Island restaurants that dot the fat part of the palm of the Mitten State. A Coney Island restaurant here is a magical place where chili dogs, Greek salads, pancakes, steak, or even a simple cup of golden chicken lemon rice soup can be ordered at any time of the day. So this is where I took Noah after church that day. He ordered his usual; a kid’s basket of chicken tenders and fries with two sides of ranch and I quietly agonized between sweet or savory- pancakes or a veggie pita. I don’t get to eat at restaurants much because I am home most of the time and it’s not easy to take three kids to eat in public alone. I knew I must choose wisely. I know you’re dying to know my decision. The pita won since it was closer to lunchtime. And I mean, no one can make tzatziki sauce like Leo’s!
While we waited for our food, we sipped our drinks and killed time by playing Eye-Spy. He whipped around excitedly in the booth searching for his “thing.” When he saw it, he announced, “Mom, I spy something blue!” I followed his eyes and frowned slightly. I did see something blue a few booths away but hoped it wasn’t what he was spying. Of course it probably was, but being a good sport, I looked around at various blue things; The sky in the giant Greek Mural of Diana the Hunter? The blue ornaments hanging in the window? That man’s baseball hat? His response to each: No. No. No. Then reluctantly, I crouched down low to the table over our castles we’d built from single-serve jelly and coffee creamers. “Noah,” I hissed, “is it the tattoo on that man’s neck sitting over there?” “Yep!” he said far less discreetly but very proudly. I resisted the urge to smack my own forehead. Then the loud barrage of questions ensued: “Mom, why does he have a tattoo on his neck? Is that a dragon? Can I have a tattoo someday?” My replies were the obvious, “I don’t know… Looks like one… ABSOLUTELY NOT.” Then blessedly our food was delivered. Noah quickly abandoned his requests for a tattoo. I couldn’t help but smile, though. I glanced over at the tattooed guy when Noah was well absorbed in his liberal distribution of ranch to chicken tender ratio. The guy was probably in his early twenties. And he was sitting opposite of who looked to be his rather conservative looking mother and father. I wondered to myself, “Does his mom even see that tattoo or does she still see her little boy she probably (hopefully) played eye-spy with while they waited for their food at restaurants?” So here is where my strange little prayer floated into my mind: “Dear God, Please, no matter what road my children take in this life, if it brings them to painful body piercings or tattoos in places which would make it difficult for them to find gainful employment, if they become cooler or smarter than me, if they decide to move far away, please let us always have Leo’s Coney Island moments. And please help them to know that somehow, I will love them no matter what. Amen.”