On our way to church on Christmas Eve, Katie and I were talking about whether or not if you took the word gravity out of the dictionary it would cease to exist. I missed our exit.
It all started when Katie announced from the back seat of the car, "I want to be in the Christmas play!"
"You do?" I asked.
First I'd hear of it. Our girl usually claims she's too shy if anyone asks her to perform. She's much less shy than she was when she was three. That's the year Katie hid in her bedroom crying because she didn't want to come out into the living room because it was too full of smiling people wanting to give her presents and sing "Happy Birthday" to her. At seven, she's warmed up to the idea of large crowds starring at her as long as presents and cake are involved, but she usually buries her head in my armpit if I ask her to sing a song for more than three people. I had no idea she wanted to be in the Christmas play at church. It was our first time and I wasn't sure if she knew what it was all about.
"Yes, I think it would be fun," she responded. "I could pet the lamb!"
"Well, I think you have to be in the children's choir to be in the Christmas play," I warned. I honestly wasn't sure if this was true or not, but I wanted to lay down a little speed bump on her road. Force her to slow down and consider what she's saying. I'd asked her before if she wanted to join the church choir and got a resounding "Nope!"
"Oh," she sighed. "I don't want to be in the children's choir." I could hear the frown on her face.
"Why don't you want to be in the children's choir?" I asked.
"Because I don't like to sing in front of lots of people," Katie said in an annoyed, monotone voice like Mom, why are you asking a question you already know the answer to?
"Singing in a choir is just like singing during the church service when everyone stands and sings from the hymnals," I reasoned. I know she sings then because I can hear her sweet voice. "It's not so embarrassing if you mess up because everyone else's voice covers up your mistake," I explained.
"It's not the same," Katie said, firmly.
"How is it not the same?" I asked.
"Because I don't want a thousand pairs of eyes starring at me," Katie explained. "When you sing with the choir you have to stand in front of everyone."
"Yeah, I know what you mean. I don't like people starring at me either," I agreed. "But I don't think a thousand people would fit into the church sanctuary," I one-upped her reasoning.
"Well, a thousand people would fit into the church sanctuary if there was no gravity," Katie countered.
"Why?" I laughed.
"Because they'd float up to the tall ceiling. More people could fit inside the sanctuary if we could float around," Katie explained.
"Well, too bad there's gravity," I said. My cheeks were getting sore from smiling at Katie's comment.
"Mom, I wonder what would happen if we took the word gravity out of the dictionary?" Katie asked.
Right then I missed our exit. It's difficult for me to laugh and drive at the same time.
"Well, we could try it, but I don't think removing a word from the dictionary makes it cease to exist," I said before I changed the subject. "Dang it, I missed our exit!"
Katie pouted as I turned the car around and headed back toward the church. She was annoyed that we were running late anyway, and these extra few blocks would make us even that much later. I grew up with two uber-punctual parents. People who'd show up no later than twenty minutes early for everything. As a naturally poky person, they used to drive me crazy. Now I drive Katie crazy. If I had a dollar for every time she nags, "Mom, can we just go now?" whenever we're getting ready to go somewhere and I've suddenly got the motivation to fix the blinds I'd broken five days ago, or do the dishes, or feed the pets, I'd have enough money to pay her future therapy bills.
About a block away from the church, we saw three teenagers, two boys and one girl, walking in robes down the sidewalk. The two boys had on crowns and the girl had on a veil. All three carried torches.
I pointed toward them and exclaimed, "Do you think those are the Three Wise Men?"
"Mom," Katie said with impatience in her voice like how can my mom be so dumb sometimes? "They're called the three wise MEN. Not the two wise men and one wise woman." Winter break from public school be damned. Our conversation began with science, moved on to math, and now we were headed on toward church doctrine.
"Well, this is a pretty progressive church. I wouldn't be surprised if they allow a woman to be one of the magi traveling to greet baby Jesus," I said. Then what one of the Three Wise People did made me laugh.
"Did you see that?" I asked Katie.
"See what?" she asked.
"One of The Three Wise Men pulled his phone out of his pocket and checked it," I laughed as I turned on the blinker to indicate we were ready to turn into the church parking lot. Who knows? Maybe he was checking to see how they were doing on time, but it sure looked funny from our angle.
"You'd think one of The Three Wise Men wouldn't need to check his GPS to see where he's going. Even I know that part of the story," I chuckled some more, turning into a parking spot.
As Katie hopped out of the car, I saw her cup her hand over her mouth and call out, "You're supposed to follow the star!"
We made it to our seats in a pew off to the side of the sanctuary about five minutes after the nativity play had started. A kind stranger tapped Katie on the shoulder and asked if she'd ever been to the Children's Christmas Eve Service. Katie shook her head. She surprised me when she so easily took the lady's hand, letting her lead the way to the front of the sanctuary so she could have a better view.
Not much later the three teenagers we'd seen walking on the sidewalk outside burst through the side door as the narrator quoting scripture announced their arrival. All phones were tucked neatly away inside their robes. And yes, one of the "Three Wise Men" was a woman. I later learned the church calls them the "Three Wise Travelers".
After the Three Wise Travelers entered the sanctuary, the congregation stood and we sang We Three Kings of Orient Are. It could have been my imagination, but I think I heard Katie up front, singing the loudest.
The bulletin urged parents to retrieve their children as the congregation sang Go, Tell It on the Mountain. When Katie saw me walking toward her, she smiled so bright it mesmerized me. We grabbed hands and walked together back to the pew. She sank into me and we listened to a beautiful rendition of Gesu Bambino by a young woman named Jenna Lillian.
After the benediction I chatted with a friend of a friend as we grabbed our coats and headed out of the sanctuary. Katie pulled on my sleeve and looked up at me with a frown on her face.
"What's wrong?" I asked. "Didn't you like the Christmas play?"
"I loved it. But I could hardly see the chickens and the lamb from where I was sitting," she complained.
Just then we walked out the church doors and Katie's frown turned upside down. There stood three shepherds--two young men and one young woman--cradling the chickens and the lamb in their arms for us to pet them. When the little lamb started "baaaaaa-ing", Katie sang, "Baaaaaaa!" back and the young woman playing the shepherd smiled and said, "You sound just like her."
The voice of a lamb. I couldn't agree more.