My daughter, Nina, sat in the front row fidgeting in her white robe.
I tried to be patient. After all, as a new acolyte she had a lot to remember. Ask the usher light the long wick/snuffer combination in the back of the church. Wait until for prelude. Slowly walk up the center aisle of the church, flame in front and snuffer on the back. Light the left candle, cross before the altar, and light the candle on the right. Extinguish wick by drawing it back into the long shaft, but immediately extend it again so the warm wax won’t fuse inside. Go sit in front pew.
Honestly, it was a lot to remember, and she’d made it through beautifully. But now, half way through the service, she was fidgeting. I glanced at the television camera pointed toward the congregation. Was Nina currently in the frame? Would tonight’s local cable viewers be treated to an episode of The Antsy Acolyte?
“Stop fidgeting,” I whispered through half-closed lips. In front of me, Nina straightened in her seat and directed her attention back toward the pastor. But two minutes later I saw her hand go back to her mouth. Oh no. Was she picking food out of her teeth?
I glanced behind the pastor toward the choir. Was anyone up there noticing my daughter’s sudden dental needs? After all, maybe I making too much of this. . . . No. An older woman in the alto section was watching Nina. In fact, she seemed to be staring with growing alarm.
I reached forward and tapped my daughter’s shoulder. “Nina, cut it out! You’re distracting people.”
My daughter turned around to face me, and I saw several things at once. First, there was a white object held between her fingers. Second, there was blood on those fingers. Third, there was blood running down her chin.
“I pulled my tooth,” she said conversationally.
No-no-no-no, my mind screamed. But it was, of course, too late to advise my girl on the timeliness dental extraction. The best I could do was calmly assess the situation: My daughter looked like a young vampire in a white robe, interrupted mid-snack, sitting in the front row of a televised church service.
“In the name of Jesus Christ,” the preacher intoned.
“Jesus Christ,” I said.
“Amen,” said everyone else.
The organ began and the choir stood. “Up, Nina!” I hissed. “Follow me! Now!”
We stood and I took a quick swipe at her chin to keep the blood from dripping onto her white robe. (As a mom, this is not even close to the most disgusting thing I’ve had to handle on the fly.) We trotted up the aisle and into the vestibule, passing several alarmed ushers. I could only imagine what they thought. The only thing missing was Nina’s head rotating a full 360 while she intoned in a gravelly growl, “I’m here to extinguish your lights! Bwahahaha!”
Seconds later Nina was rinsing her mouth in the ladies’ room. As I wrapped and pocketed her tooth, I realized I’d brought this on myself. As a child I had been terrified of pulling my loose teeth, so I vowed to sidestep that fear in my kids. Losing baby teeth was no big deal, I’d told them—and they’d certainly taken that to heart, yanking out their teeth in grocery stores, doctor’s offices, or wherever the need arose. This Sunday morning nightmare was my victory lap. A gory, inconvenient victory lap, but still.
We returned in time for Nina to grab the wick and snuffer. She finished her duties with great reserve, and no one but me and the alto lady knew anything had gone amiss. As Nina walked by me, carrying the light before her, she gave me big gap-toothed grin. I laughed and sent out a quick prayer. “Thanks for the crazy blessings of motherhood,” I thought. “Oh—and you might consider doing something about the film in the pew camera.”
***Angela Dove is an award-winning columnist and author of the book No Room for Doubt: A True Story of the Reverberations of Murder. For more author info visit www.AngelaDove.com