I lead a double life.
To some that might sound glamorous; to others, intriguing; and there are those who might think it sounds plain exhausting. To me it is just something I have to do, because my son and daughter attend different schools.
Now, in New York this is not unusual. Our city offers, in general, something for everyone; parents have the choice of public, parochial, or private; single sex or coed.
Back in the day, where I grew up in The Bronx, every kid in a family went to the same school — either the parochial or public one in our neighborhood. The thinking was that it just made sense, and of course it was convenient for parents. There were no interviews or “spend the day with us” days to see if the school was the right fit.
I guess I am a product of my environment, because my dream was that my children all attend the same Catholic school — the one I set my sights on when my first child, a boy, was only weeks old — the school we have so enjoyed being a part of. My dream did not come true.
Holiday seasons, such as the Lenten one we’re in now, are blatant reminders that though we all may be the same in God’s eyes, not all Catholic children can get educated in Catholic schools. In NYC, there are no Catholic schools devoted to teaching children with special needs. So my daughter, who has ADHD and requires a small classroom setting and non-traditional teaching methods, must attend a secular school catering to children who learn differently, then attend religious training classes once a week for 75 minutes.
That is why I divide my mommy time between non-secular and secular schools.
And yes, she goes to church, even sings in the choir, and has thus far made her Holy Communion, but I know she is being shortchanged by not having religious instruction in her life on a daily basis. My son is surrounded by pictures of Jesus in the classroom, says prayers to start and end the school day, and has religion class each day. Because of these things, I believe he is more in touch with what it means to be Catholic. He can incorporate his religious beliefs into day-to-day situations more readily than my girl can. When faced with a challenge, she needs an extra reminder of what a Christian would do.
Over the years though, I have come to accept that she is where she needs to be. So I have learned to let go of much of my disappointment, and suppress the rest.
Acceptance is how I have been able (to their faces, at least) to admire my children’s seasonal handiwork equally. I still treasure the crucifix my son made of clothespins several years ago during Lent. The choice of material may sound silly, but trust me when I say, it is beautiful and holds a place of honor in our home. That same year, my daughter came home with a 3-D flower motif made of construction paper and pipe cleaners, which was a tribute to spring. I can still work up tears when I think about it.
Suppression is what enables me to go from my boy’s Christmas pageant — where hymns are sung and a moving reenactment of the Nativity is performed — to my daughter’s holiday concert where, after the salute to Kwanza and Hanukkah, Christmas is honored with a rousing chorus of “Jingle Bells.” Even though the children are cute singing and playing instruments and evoke plenty of “ah” moments, with the faith drained out of it, it’s just your basic school recital.
There are other Catholic mothers at my secular school with whom I can share where to buy a Communion dress or something the priest said at Mass the previous Sunday. But I am mostly surrounded by people with different or no beliefs. I often give myself the “tolerance” pep talk.
It is the strong death grip of Jesus’ hand on my tongue that has kept me from saying something I might regret (and something which could be taken out on my child) to the person who said that although he really liked the Radio City Christmas Show, they left before the end because he and his wife don’t want their child to see that “religious thing” at the finale. Or to the mother who took umbrage when another Catholic mother and I did an Easter egg decorating project with our girls’ kindergarten class. Or to people who look at me in an unflattering way because I show up for pickup with ashes on my forehead or are taken aback when they hear me greet another Catholic parent with, “Merry Christmas”, instead of, “Happy Holidays”.
My son will soon continue his Catholic school education through high school. My daughter will continue on to middle school as a Catholic girl in a secular world. And I shall keep living my double life, praying twice as hard that I can keep it up.