Big brown eyes, peeked at me over a masculine shoulder, ducked down to bury themselves in the safety of a father's embrace, then slowly crested the crinkles in his starched shirt to peer at me again. This time they folded into half moons, the bottom lids curving upward, hinting at a hidden smile.
My four children, my husband, and I sat two pews behind the owner of those eyes. I reciprocated her delight with a wink, causing her to suddenly reel backwards in her father's grasp, pushing off of his chest with both arms, revealing her full, round, amused face framed by long, wavy, chestnut hair. Her lips stretched wide, pulling themselves away from tiny white baby teeth, and the child's entire body expressed joy, without a single sound.
I looked away. I know how we parents are in church, expecting our children to appreciate the solemnity of the service, or at the very least to quit wiggling, sit down, stop poking each other, shush nagging, and fold their hands in their laps. If I kept encouraging her joyfulness, she would for sure get in trouble.
Unable to help myself, however, I caught her gaze again. Happiness bubbled out of the little girl, who effortlessly competed with the rhythm of the hymn for my attention by displaying her deep dimples as she rested her head in the crook of her daddy's neck. She reminded me of my own children, when they were yet uninhibited by rules of decorum. Sadly, also like my offspring, she lost interest in me and went on to other pursuits.
She pranced up and down the pew. She kissed her daddy on the back of his head. She kissed her mother on the back of her head. She kissed her grandmother on the back of the head. Then she kissed her mother's head again, and her father's, then her mother's and her grandmother's. Tight hugs from behind, the short-armed kind that choke around the neck, followed kisses.
During the sermon, she flopped over the back of the pew, dangling by her armpits with her long locks trailing toward the floor. Her chubby hands flew to her lips, one after the other, to receive kisses. Pausing, she studied a palm, as if she could see the kiss she deposited there, then gobbled the kiss up again and placed it upon her other palm.
When everyone stood, she marched her Mary Janes, clomp, clomp, clomp, to and fro on the wooden seat, to the cadence of Our Father. Her mother, exasperated, turned and grabbed her daughter's hand, pulling her to a stop, while at the same time flashing an apologetic look to those of us behind.
In my quiet pew, my brood stood for hymns and sat for the sermon. I prayed uninterrupted. I only said, "Quit poking him," twice. And not once did I shuffle the seating order. No one kissed my hair or hugged my jugular. No one wriggled across the floor. No one tried my patience.
My young friend accompanied the final song with exaggerated hand waves. She flung kisses into the air, into the aisle, into the audience. At wit's end with her daughter's antics, the mother whispered a stern scolding, "That's enough."
I empathized. I've squelched many a child's unbridled revelry during a worship service with a firm, "That's enough. I mean it," coupled with a stare strong enough to halt the steady motion of the sea, never mind that of squirming sprouts.
I suppose that's the rub of motherhood, though - the great regret. That I thought there could ever be enough.
(Lucy Adams is a syndicated columnist, freelance writer, and the author of If Mama Don't Laugh, It Ain't Funny. She lives in Thomson. Lucy invites readers to send comments to her at email@example.com and to visit her web site, www.IfMama.com.)