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Mary, Mary

When I was a young teenager, I was approached by music director at our church with a flattering offer. She asked me to represent Mary in the annual Christmas Eve service. My job was to sit serenely on a wooden bench, dressed in robes.

I’d get to hold her seven-month-old grandson on my lap. He was going to be Baby Jesus, a role she probably planned on having him fill from the moment he was born in the spring.

There is never anything realistic about these Christmas services and everyone knows it. Mary didn’t have 3-inch tall bangs and braces. Jesus wasn’t born looking plumply Gerber and babble-prone alert.

Right before we made our way to the stage manger, the mom handed the baby boy over to my waiting arms. He was slightly fussy, so in a desperate move she gave an empty styrofoam cup to him to hold. In retrospect, I think she was nervous about her baby making a good impression on the congregation.

The cup distracted him for a few minutes as we sat together, bathed in the ethereal glow of a portable spotlight meant to mimic the heavenly host. Luke 2 was solemnly read. It was a typical Christmas Eve service with music, candles, and crowds.

Above the harmonious wail of the choir, I noticed the baby was making gagging, coughing sounds.

I turned him around to face me and noticed he had a large chunk of white styrofoam in his mouth. He had bitten it off, which is no surprise to anyone who’s parented longer than 5 minutes. Red Cross Babysitter Training to the rescue!

I stuck my finger in the side of his mouth and swept out the styrofoam in one deft motion. Mary saves Jesus.


The next time I played Mary, I was a mother of four. Many, many years had passed, eons and eons of hazy time spun away into a foggy eternity of Christmases past, forever sealed in the vault of holiday infamy, bittersweet regret, and too much fudge. Behold, the ravages of age!

I was asked by the director of Sam and Ryley’s preschool to represent Mary in the school’s Christmas program. Could Tommy play Jesus? Sure. He was a year old, so he’d be another giant baby savior. Toddler bravado cannot be swaddled, but we’d try.

The night of the program arrived. I was given a long, voluminous white gown and blue scarf to cover my head. I pulled them over my dress and waited in the pastor’s study for my cue to go onstage. Tommy was blessedly asleep in a stroller. I hoped he’d remain asleep for the duration of our Mother and Child depiction. I could lift him out, glide on stage, and represent.

And then something woke him—a dozen jingling bells shaken by enthusiastic 4-year-olds? Applause? I don’t know.

He was mad and suddenly I was the mother who was self-conscious about having a bucking, red-faced baby on my lap. How to calm him? How? No cups to be seen! No small bouncy balls, hot dog chunks, or small Legos. I was fresh out of choking hazards, so I did what mamas do when a baby is wailing and calm needs to be restored. I decided to nurse him.

Standing in the pastor’s study, I hoisted the yards and yards of fabric up and under my chin. Then I had to lift my entire dress to num-num heights. I prayed that nobody would walk in.

Nobody walked in.

Tommy calmed. No crying he made.

By the time I heard our cue, a certain song, he was sleeping.

I let the fabric fall around my feet and carried him on stage.

7 comments to Mary, Mary

  • A natural mother. 😉
    .-= GretchenJoanna´s last blog ..Near Nativity =-.

  • I’m glad no one walked in on you. And yet, it would have made a good story even better. 🙂
    .-= Angie B´s last blog ..Thread Tree =-.

  • Love it, Gretchen. I played Mary as a young teenager too. Strangely, I recall thinking (quite artistically, I thought) that Mary surely wouldn’t have worn much makeup, so I ONLY wore foundation and my red lipstick. So I ended up being the Morticia Adams version of Mary, but at least my parents thought it was sweet.

    Hope you guys have a merry Christmas!

  • I nursed my firstborn at my graduation… sitting amongst all these academic types with my two month old and just before I had to go up he started to squwall I hoiked this great fat graduation gown over my head and nursed away… never thought about it again until now!!! I must given those professors on the stage something to think about on a hot summer afternoon twelve years ago!!!
    .-= se7en´s last blog ..Se7en Do Christmas Decorating and Crafting… =-.

  • Way to represent!
    .-= Heth´s last blog ..Christmas is Coming =-.

  • edj

    Very realistic touch! 😉

    When Elliot was a baby, we were living in Ptld going to an international church and very much the minority. He was the only baby boy in the church, and got to play Jesus at the age of 6 months. His mother was Nigerian and his father Indonesian, and he looked very very white up there on stage! It wasn’t realistic but I thought he was adorable nonetheless, and his pacifier was no less anachronistic than that stryofoam cup.
    .-= edj´s last blog ..Lego Creche–2009 version =-.

  • Sounds like the way it actually went right before “Away in the Manger” was written.

    Great post!

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