Twice a year at church, the children’s organization performs a program they’ve spent the last six months preparing. They offer readings, they sing songs, and all the proud parents giggle at the children’s antics and cry at the sweet little voices singing about God’s love. Somebody’s kid always does something unintentionally hilarious, it’s a welcome break from the usual speeches, and for most people it is the highlight of the year.
For infertile people, it is a gauntlet from hell. It is having every cherished wish held up just beyond arm’s reach. It is sitting in a crowd of people reveling in their happiness and good fortune while you feel like the force of your emptiness will turn you inside out. It is feeling the mask ripped from your face and knowing that everyone in the room knows you are different, wrong, unworthy. It is feeling like the black hole of need threatening the happiness of everyone around you, the bitter note that ruins a perfect meal, like your sorrow is glowing so brightly it is obscuring the vision of those around you and everyone would be better off if you weren’t there.
In our early infertility years, Bear and I would try to cheer each other up with inappropriate jokes. We’d pick out which kid would be most like ours – the booger eater, the scream singer, the ad libber – and tease each other about which of our less than desirable characteristics our future offspring would be sure to put on display. But as the years went on, those jokes got less and less funny.
Eventually I just added Primary Program Sunday to the list of weeks I took off for my mental health. Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and two primary programs a year found me staying in my bed, pretending to have a cold, wishing that a little nyquil was all it took to make me feel better.
Even once we got our little hero, we never knew if this was a rite of passage that he’d participate in. During the primary program in our last ward he was down away from the performance and only told his teacher he wanted to join the other kids at the last minute. He joined them for a song, and then while his teacher held him he said loud enough for the microphone to pick up, “I love kisses!” and gave his teacher a kiss on the cheek. It was heaven. My kid was the ad-libber.
Now that Atti’s a little older, the kids his age actually have parts. He had a line he had to memorize, they practiced speaking into the microphone, they learned sign language to perform along with one of the songs. It was official. And with Atti being so verbally limited, and even more pathologically shy, I had no idea what he would go along with. He’s known to break into huge watery sobs when one of his favorite songs is over, or get mad and throw things because he’s embarrassed by being the center of attention. But he didn’t do any of those things. He was a total pro.
We sat in the front row to make it as easy as we could to get him up and down from the stand, and that meant that he had a prime view of his favorite audience. He kept saying, “You got your mama and your daddy.” He blew us kisses, he picked his nose, he had a giggle fit, he scream sang, he danced so much he nearly tossed himself down the stairs. When his class came forward to say their lines, the teacher whispered in each child’s ear and they repeated it into the microphone. Atti put the microphone into his mouth, gave it a couple of chomps, and then said, “I AM MADE IMAGE!” Which was close enough.
Taking pictures in church is considered the height of irreverence, but I couldn’t help myself. Bear tried to wrestle the phone away from me but I just grabbed him by the tie, stared him right in the eye and said, “I have been waiting my whole life for this. You let me take my picture.”