Given my daughter’s zealous embrace of the symbols of our faith and her new devotion to prayer, I am trying to participate more. I don’t want to be left out of this journey because I’m ignorant or, gasp, lazy. I recognize I have come to a place in my parenting journey with my daughter where it is time for Sarah to lead and for me to follow.
So, tentatively and with effort, I am starting to pray, again. For me, praying feels awkward. I feel off-balance and uncomfortable when I try — as if I am walking into a party where I don’t know anyone, and, although I’m invited, I am not as distinguished as all the other guests.
Like many efforts I make as I am raising my children, I go back to once familiar paths. My path of prayer was not well-tended; it meandered here and there without focus or direction. Perhaps that is why I ultimately just quit, figuring that with all this wandering about, the path wasn’t doing me much good, and I might as well slog through the forest on my own.
My daughter, in contrast, is a third-grader at a Catholic school in the Chicago archdiocese. Her religion curriculum and her teacher are both fans of structure, the Saints of North America, discipline and symbolism.
As a beneficiary of her teacher’s generosity, my daughter wears four holy medals and a pocket rosary around her neck on a black shoelace. She also wears a scapula, her second of the year. Once the first scapula bit the dust, we buried it in the garden.
On top of the washer, we have plastic holy medals, another pocket rosary, some rather tattered but now clean holy cards, a manger and a baby Jesus. The rosaries were getting out of hand, showing up everywhere, so I put the rosaries, seven, as well as an errant scapula, in a mason jar in the kitchen. But the most impressive indicator of her teacher’s leadership, in my opinion, is the shrine in Sarah’s bedroom.
Maybe if I had made a shrine in my childhood bedroom and had taken the time to bury a few scapulas and stopped to kneel in front of Our Lady more, I would have held on to those symbols and used them to help me stay on the path a bit longer.
I believe in symbols. I believe they give me something I can feel with my reaching hands, like the comforting grasp of a child’s hand in mine, magically making me feel loved and grounded. Still, even though I believe in them, tonight I walk over to my daughter’s bed hoping we don’t have to kneel in front of her shrine. I ask if we can’t just sit on the bed and pray.
I start in with my usual Dear God I’m grateful, and I ramble along, and I don’t bury any scapulas or kneel down in front of any statutes and I walk through the woods, and blah, blah, dog food.
The dog hadn’t eaten in five days, so I was grateful that he had eaten that afternoon, so that’s what I prayed about, dog food. I said an Amen and looked up at Sarah.
My dog food prayer wasn’t up to her third-grade standards. She was looking at me with this look that said, “Mom, that prayer sucked.” But, my daughter is a kind person so instead of telling me what she thought of my prayer, she said instead:
“Mom, do you ever pray the rosary?”
“No, Sarah, I don’t.”
“I don’t know how.”
“You don’t know how? Mom! How can you not know how to pray the rosary? The rosary is the second most important symbol of our Catholic faith.” I don’t have the nerve to ask the first.
At this my daughter jumps out of bed and tells me to wait right there, she’ll be back. She bounds down the stairs and I hear her father’s voice, “Sarah, what are you doing — you are supposed to be in bed.”
“Nothing, Daddy, I just need to get something for Mommy.”
And with that admission, I know she’s got one of those rosaries in her hand.
Sarah jumps back under the covers, takes my hand and starts to teach me how to pray the rosary with a page she has colored in with crayons that the teacher pulled from a website called Catholicmom.com. I think maybe I need my own website, Iamtryingheremom.com.
Maraya Steadman, who lives in a Chicago suburb, is a stay-at-home mother of three children. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.