It was Sunday evening. We’d decided to go to a Christmas carol service at the local church. I’m a little apprehensive about taking both the children with us for fear that the birth of the baby Jesus is going to be sound-tracked by H’s baby bowel movements and M’s random stories about dinosaurs, all enhanced by the church acoustics. The promise of a mince pie and sloe gin afterwards keeps me focused though and we are also due to meet some friends and their two young children there as well. So, if M kicks off – I thought – we have safety in numbers.
We arrive early to a packed church with hardly any seats left. After a lot of festive faffing, we find ourselves pressed into a pew near the middle (not conducive if we need to make a swift exit). Our friends manage to squeeze themselves into a corner at the back. I think that it’s actually really quite nice that so many people still flock to Christmas Carol services. Most of whom, I imagine, would not have expected a two-and-a-half year old to act as if she were drunk…
Here’s how the evening panned out:
Greeting/First Carol: M is wedged in between her mum and I, whilst my wife has H strapped to her using the baby wrap. M’s quiet at this point because she’s still weighing up the situation. Meanwhile, I’m absolutely sweltering in my fleece and unable to take it off because doing so would also lift up my t-shirt to reveal a shameful ‘Dad podge’ – a legacy of the fact that I’ve barely exercised in the last month. I also really need a wee.
First Reading: It goes quiet as the first reader takes their place at the lectern. They’ve probably practiced endlessly and have waited weeks for this moment. They are maybe rather nervous, but proud. They open their mouth to speak but their words are almost immediately punctuated by the sound of a toddler loudly asking “WHERE’S MY FRIEND?” Her Mum and I explain that her friend is at the back of the church with her Mummy and Daddy and that it would be really nice if M spoke in a whispering voice. The exact type of voice that both Mummy and Daddy are using now, but without the air of embarrassment and desperation.
Second Carol: M has got the idea that she can stand on the pew when we all stand up to sing. She does so, but also marches on a spot a bit as well, lending a more out-of-tune, percussive feel to ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’ than is really necessary. Suddenly, those Zara boots we bought for her don’t seem like such a good idea.
Second Reading: “WHERE’S THE LADY?” With no thought for my own bladder, I sit M on my lap so she can see the lady reading the second lesson.
Third Carol: (for which the choir sing the first verse and the congregation remain seating): M struggles to grasp with the concept that the congregation don’t join in with the first verse, so she turns around and loudly implores everyone to “STAND UP!!” I sit her down and my wife frantically explains the situation to M, before she can accuse anyone of spilling her pint.
Third Reading: “WHAT’S THE LADY SAYING??”
Fourth Carol: Calm is resumed. I breathe. It’s still really warm though, so I’m desperately hoping for a draft or a small gust of air from somewhere, anywhere. There are people in the church with thick winter coats on – how are they not just sweat puddles by now? “DADDY, WHY AREN’T YOU SINGING?” asks my inquisitive daughter during one of the quieter bits. “Because Daddy has a singing voice like a strangled cockerel”, I don’t reply. Instead I mime exuberantly, as if Christmas itself depends on it.
Fourth Reading: M is studying the order of service and then drops it. I pick it up, she drops it again. All this leaning forward is not helping.
Fifth Carol: Choir only, this time. My wife and I realise the next two hymns are also choir only. We exchange a worried look and start to wonder how many people would notice if we snuck out mid-carol.
Fifth Reading: M is still sitting on my lap. She starts bouncing up and down. My bladder is NOT IMPRESSED. Meanwhile, H has woken up and immediately demands to be fed. My wife springs into action like a breast-feeding ninja and H is sucking away quite happily within 20 seconds.
Sixth Carol: M is looking at the leaflet again and decides to enter into a Q&A with her mum as to where the three wise men in the picture are going:
– M: “ARE THEY GOING TO SCHOOL?”
– My wife (quietly): “No, they’re off to see the baby Jesus…can you speak in a quiet little voice, please?”
– M: “NO, THEY ARE GOING TO SCHOOL!” *waves leaflet frantically, hitting a feeding H on the head with it*
– My wife: “Shhhhhhhh!!”
Sixth Reading: M has discovered the little yellow envelopes that are at the end of the pew for the church donations. A lot of them end up on the floor. There are also a couple of pens there so , thankfully, this keeps her amused during the reading.
Seventh Carol: As well as holding M as we resume the standing (and stamping) for ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’, I fill in my address details on one of the few envelopes that hasn’t now been defaced and place some coins inside. Who says men can’t multi-task?
Seventh Reading: “I WANT COINS IN HERE”- M thrusts an empty envelope in our faces. To distract her, I frantically find an envelope that she hasn’t yet scribbled on. She duly obliges.
Eighth Carol: The collection occurs during this one. The man collecting the envelopes picks up the discarded, scribbled-on ones from the floor (as well as the laminated description as to why the yellow envelopes are there in the first place) and places them back on the pew. I mouth “thank you” and smile apologetically. He ignores me.
Eighth Reading: Is this one of the longer ones? It feels like one of the longer ones. M’s getting really restless now. It won’t be long before the birth of baby Jesus is being proclaimed alongside a loud verbal request to watch ‘The Snowman’ for the umpteenth time this weekend.
Ninth Carol: I need to wee. I need to wee. I need to w…OH COME LET US ADOOOORE HIM!
Ninth Reading/Blessing: For her swansong, M decides to try and go for a walk around. She makes it to the end of the pew before tripping over her own fleece which was by my feet, staggers backwards and lands loudly in a heap of hymn books, coats and order of service leaflets, ending up at the feet of the man sitting next to my wife. In her own ‘mic drop’ moment, she picks herself up and immediately struts towards our friends at the back of the church, oblivious to the fact she nearly trips up an elderly lady with a walking stick.
Merry Christmas, everyone 😀