Prayers of the (Mostly) Faithful

I never prayed at bedtime when I was little. I’d see kids doing it in movies and on television, but it just wasn’t a part of our routine. Now I get to make the routine. So, in our house, we pray.

My kids are still very young (most of them). They don’t stay up too late. It’s not that they aren’t willing; they just can’t keep their eyes open. Often, I arrive home from work through the front door as they are heading up the wooden hills to Bedfordshire.

I shuck my shoes and look longingly at dinner. But, up we go together, telling stories about our day or humming a tune from Annie. Some nights I’m so hungry I’m tempted to simply tuck them in and make my escape.

But the temptation always passes, and I’m always glad it does. Daddy needs to pray too.

My soon-to-be six year-old Paddy is a good one for saying his prayers. He takes it seriously, even if he does have to be reminded to make the sign of the cross with his right hand, not his left, and to stop jittering.

Having been a boy myself once, I know how hard it is for a fidgety fellow to keep still. I admire Paddy’s devotion, which belies his age.

Magdalena, who shares his room, is less pious. She delights in dropping silly words into our Hail Marys and Glory Bes. “Hail Mary, full of . . . pomegranates,” she’ll say with a giggle. Or, “Glory be to the Father and to the son and to the . . . beans.” We tighten our lips, Paddy and I, and try to ignore.

Is it sacrilege? Perhaps. But people don’t get punished at bedtime in our house. Not while we’re asking forgiveness for our trespasses. Not while we’re forgiving those who trespass against us.

Our petitions to the saints can get complicated. I enjoy asking for the prayers of our namesake saints. “Saint Patrick,” I’ll say. “Pray for us,” the children will reply. “Saint Matthew,” my son will say. “Pray for us,” we’ll say together.

This is Magdalena’s cue: “Saints Kiki and Marina, pray for us.”

I’ll spare you trying to find your copy of Butler’s Lives of the Saints. Kiki and Marina are not obscure holy women canonized by the Church in a bygone era. They are one half—the female half—of the Fresh Beat Band. (If you don’t know what that is, I truly envy you.)

“Magdalena, please take the prayers seriously,” I’ll say, lowering my eyes with rehearsed disapproval, for I know what’s coming.

“Twist and Shout, pray for us,” she says with a full throated laugh. She looks about, thoroughly pleased with herself.

(If you haven’t guessed, Twist and Shout are the noms-de-theatre of the male half of the aforementioned Fresh Beat Band, which is, come to think of it, less a band than it is a television show and less a television show than an instrument of torture for parents, music lovers, and innocents everywhere.)

All you can do with a child who asks for the prayers of a Nickelodeon character is tickle her until she cries for mercy. Then tuck her in, hit the lights, and get busy eating your dinner.

I don’t want to do a disservice to Magdalena’s public reputation. While she occasionally lacks focus at bedtime, she does have moments of extreme clarity. Especially when giving thanks for the many blessings that make an eight-year-old’s life worth living.

“Thank you God for spaghetti and meatballs,” she said in one of her more serious moods. “And for no carrots.”

When Paddy finally downshifts his motor, he, too, is capable of serious reflection. “If I went to heaven,” he mused once, “it wouldn’t be all happy because you guys wouldn’t be there.”

Hmmm. Serious theological question: Is paradise less heavenly for the absence of your still living loved ones? Sometimes there’s not much you can do except shrug your shoulders, mumble something about “mysteries” and say goodnight.

“Sleep tight Fresh Beats. It’s been a great day. Don’t let the pomegranates bite.”

Now what are the chances dinner’s still hot?

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