I have to tell you about church this weekend. I’ve got to tell you about church this weekend.
The children were scheduled to sing “Praise Him in the Morning” during the service. When the children sing, so does Martin. He attends the church’s Tuesday-afternoon Kids’ Klub each week, where the children practice with their music minister. This weekend was already the third or fourth time Martin has sang at church since December. Even in that short space of time, I’ve seen the level of assistance he needs decrease rapidly. Initially, he stood in the nave with the other children but really didn’t sing, and sort of wandered. Now—
Actually, let me start with something else. The children were asked to arrive 20 minutes before the service, for a final rehearsal. We were late and made it to the narthex only five minutes before the service. I told Martin to hurry and shooed him toward the rehearsal room downstairs. He turned back and started to ask me to come. Just at that moment, one of the women who helps with Sunday school was passing. She said, “Oh, are you going to rehearse? Come on. You can come with me.” Martin hesitated only a second before heading downstairs with her. Until recently, Martin never would have done that. He would have insisted that I come, or staged a meltdown if I didn’t.
I entered the sanctuary with my father, who was visiting for the weekend, and chose two seats on the aisle near the back.* Soon the children, about 20 in total, appeared and headed together down the aisle. Martin left the group and came to me with a happy “Mommy!”
“Hi, Sweetie,” I said. “Do you want to sit with me, or with the other children?”
I don’t think Martin had realized the children would be sitting together near the pulpit (they do that only on “performance” Sundays), because when he saw them filling the front pews, he scampered up the aisle to join them. By then most spaces were filled, and I feared Martin might get frustrated and return to me. He didn’t. He bopped around a little and finally made space for himself amongst the older boys.
The service began. I watched Martin, fearful that, out of my reach, he might do something disruptive. Not my Martin! I can’t say he paid any attention to the service—let’s reiterate: he’s six—but he did sit quietly. Only once did he start talking, whereupon the fifth-grader next to him promptly and effectively shushed him. And once he quasi-snuggled the boy to his other side. (We’re having some issues right now with respecting personal space.) That boy was patient, and the incident passed. Through the opening hymn, the prayer, the Kyrie, the first reading, the responsive psalm, the second reading, and the Gospel, Martin behaved.
Finally the children shuffled onto the chancel. First they sat and heard a three-minute lesson from the director of the mission committee. Then they stood to sing. Martin knocked it out of the park. Not only did he stand almost still; for at least 80% of “Praise Him in the Morning,” he sang along.
(Yes, I recorded the performance on my iPhone. Yes, even before the sermon ended, I had sent the file to relatives and friends.)
After their big performance, the children sang a short goodbye song and headed off to Sunday school. There was a substitute teacher, which in the past might have worried Martin. Not this week. He participated fine. When I reclaimed him for the Eucharist, he was wearing his art project around his neck, a medallion on which he’d written, “I am a child of God.”
After the Eucharist, the pastor asked everyone to sit down, because he had many announcements and business matters to review. By then Martin was antsy, so I let him take his snacks from my purse and walk to the gymnasium, where coffee hour is held. That exercise makes me nervous, because coffee hour invariably includes an open table offering goodies not allowed on Martin’s restricted diet. Furthermore, the pastor really did have a lot to talk about, so ten minutes or more passed before I left the sanctuary and found Martin in the gymnasium.
He was sitting at a small table for children, eating a bowl of fruit. We had this conversation:
“Mommy! I went to the food and got myself a bowl and filled it with fruit.”
“You did? All by yourself?”
“Yes, and then I got this spoon and this napkin, and now I’m eating. I did it all by myself.”
“Martin, that’s terrific. And where are the snacks that we brought from home?”
“Here, look! I made my almond bar into a ball and put it with the fruit!”
I was absolutely tickled by Martin’s independence, and by his wise choice: With the food was a cream-filled chocolate cake, which Martin had walked right by to serve himself fresh fruit. I decided to celebrate by offering him a little orange juice. “Sure!” he exclaimed, and then asked if he could pour it by himself, which he did, without spilling a drop.
Who is this boy? Who is this kid who sits with the other children instead of with me, who sings with the chorus, who makes good choices and takes initiative to serve himself? He’s Mr. Independence.
He capped the performance Sunday evening, when we went out to eat. At the particular restaurant, Martin can eat the burger (grass-fed beef, with no additives) or the fish cooked in olive oil. He refused to reveal his choice until the waitress came. After I ordered, Martin asked me, “Is it my turn?” Then he looked directly at the waitress and said, “Um, I would like to order a burger, please.” I was about to begin reciting the additional directions when Martin stopped me and said, by himself, “No bread, no bun, please.” The waitress asked, “Would you like cheese?” Martin replied, “No. I can’t have that.” My job was limited to whispering, to the waitress, “Could you substitute steamed broccoli for the French fries?” And we were done.
I don’t use this term much: It was one heck of an FUA day.
*Informative note: In the suburban church we attend (new since we moved), the younger kids don’t stay for the sermon. After the Gospel reading and a short children’s lesson with the pastor, they proceed to the basement for Sunday school and don’t return until the Eucharist. Until last December, I didn’t stay for the sermon, either. I accompanied Martin to Sunday school, to help him participate and make sure he didn’t monopolize attention. One Sunday in December, the Sunday-school teacher, whose own son is recovered from autism, told me, “You don’t need to be down here anymore. We’re fine.” I expressed skepticism, and she said, “Really. Go upstairs. Sit near the back. I’ll send one of the older kids up if we need you.” I made it about ten minutes before I snuck back down and peeked in the door. They were fine. Martin was playing. No chaos.
Since that Sunday, I walk downstairs with Martin if he wants me to—which happens less and less—and then I return to the sermon. Still, I choose a seat on an aisle, near the back, in case the teacher needs me. Once, an older child came upstairs to ask me whether Martin could eat the gummy snacks they were having. He couldn’t, so I whipped a GAPS-compatible brownie out of my purse. That’s the only time I’ve been needed.