For the most part, I think, I’ve gotten fairly adept at the juggling act that is parenting and pastoring. I’m pretty good about boundaries, I take most of my Fridays off, and we eat dinner together nearly every night. I’ve learned that it’s okay to wear my “mom” hat at church sometimes and simply watch Harper collect Easter eggs or help her play games at the carnival.
I’m well aware that my ability to keep up this juggling is the result of two very important factors: a generous and gracious husband and a kid-loving congregation that has embraced a young mother pastor after decades of older male ministers with remarkable grace. Rob handles the Sunday morning circus and manages to get Harper to the nursery and himself to choir; most Sundays I never even see Harper until I’ve greeted almost everybody after the second service (which carries its own sadness, but allows me to be fully present at church). And I couldn’t ask for a better congregation in which to be a mom. Harper has a whole church full of adopted older sisters, aunts, uncles, and grandparents who dote on her and look out for her and keep her from running out into the parking lot by herself.
But then there’s the potluck dinner. It’s one circus ring I’ve yet to master. I always leave potluck dinners exhausted, usually with food spilled on my shirt, bloated from eating too much too fast, and feeling like I haven’t been a very good parent or a very good pastor. I just cannot talk to everyone I need to talk to (and who wants to talk to me) at the same time that I am keeping Harper’s grabby hands away from the dessert table. I cannot make her stand politely with me in line and also make sure someone is talking to the new folks who are hovering shyly in the corner. I cannot give my full attention to the woman whose mother just entered Hospice while Harper is playing with the microphone on the stage.
Tonight, she gave up on waiting for me and cut to the front of the line, where one of her favorite grandmother-types helped her get some food. I glanced up from my conversation with our board chair and saw that she was being taken care of, but when I got to the table I discovered that her plate held only a hot dog and a chicken wing – not food that I would pick for her or even, really, food she likes. She barely ate any of it, wouldn’t sit at the table through most of dinner, ran around the fellowship hall (at one point nearly knocking over our 93-year-old matriarch) and then demanded dessert. The program was blessedly short, but then I still had to check in with our music director about the special music Sunday and lock up my office before we could leave. It turned out that I physically couldn’t carry everything to the car: Harper’s jacket and some toys she’d picked up along the way, my own things, which included a bag full of books so I can work from home tomorrow morning, and the dish of baked beans I’d taken as our own meager contribution to the feast. She was squirrely – up past her bedtime, keyed up from playing with the older kids and eating too much sugar – so I sent her to the car with Rob, who was already late to choir practice, with the promise that I would be right out as soon as I swung by the office. But on the way, I ran into someone I hadn’t seen in a while, and someone else who is arranging people to light the Advent wreath next month, and someone else who I’d asked to read at the Hanging of the Greens service.
I know my church folks love watching her run around the fellowship hall and don’t care if all she ate was a cookie. I know it’s okay if I slip out of the church without checking in with everybody. I know they don’t expect me to be perfect. Harper will eat better tomorrow, and I’ll see all these folks again on Sunday. It’s just that sometimes, I wish I only had one ball in the air at a time.