|My daughter's coin asked, "What would Jesus do?"|
“Happy birthday, Jesus!” my 3-year-old shouted over her hamburger and peas the other night at dinner, as if she were at a revival meeting. Jane might as well have been speaking in tongues.
In fact, it would have made more sense if she were taking the lord’s name in vain, since I have occasionally been guilty of doing so in front of her, and neither my husband nor I are at all religious.
Growing up, I stepped into an Episcopal church approximately once every three years for a Christmas Eve service with my family after a holiday party. My husband did a brief stint in a Congregational church, when his parents decided he and his brother could benefit from some moral instruction. Apparently, they protested so vociferously that my in-laws soon relented. And while Jeff and I respect the faith of others, we have emphasized none with our children.
But here was my 3-year-old crying, “Happy birthday, Jesus!” And I hadn’t even realized she knew his name.
My husband wasn’t home yet. Maybe he was playing a practical joke on me. Maybe Jeff had rehearsed this outburst with Jane. Or maybe our 6-year-old twins were behind it since they themselves had become temporary religious savants while attending a Presbyterian preschool.
I hadn’t set out to enroll them in a parochial program, but this nursery school had two openings at the right time. On the worksheets my twins brought home, “Y” stood not for “yo-yo” but for the “young Jesus.” They did Mary and Joseph connect-the-dots puzzles. My twins devoured the religious instruction and loved the place, though I, myself, did not always fit in.
After the holiday program one December, for instance, I stumbled into Georgia and Griffin’s classroom and saw them hunched over cupcakes with their friends singing, “Happy Birthday to You.”
“Oh!” I exclaimed. “Whose birthday is it?”
“The baby Jesus’!” my friend elbowed me and said.
I was equally dumbfounded when, at their pre-kindergarten graduation, my twins shot back answers to their teacher’s questions as if they were on a Presbyterian quiz show.
“Who gave his own tomb for the burial of Jesus? Joseph of…”
“Arimathea!” Georgia quickly responded.
Jeff and I stared at each other in puzzlement, much as I was now staring at Jane. “Happy birthday, Jesus!” she called out again, in case we hadn’t heard her the first two times.
Maybe she’d happened upon one of the little plastic tokens Georgia and Griffin’s pre-K teacher used to hand out as rewards—a sort of nursery school Bitcoin—without the seamy underbelly but equally unspendable in the real world. I found one of these discs the other day, left long forgotten behind a radiator. It was imprinted with a crude image of the son of God, radiating light and surrounded by the words, “What would Jesus do?”
Jane roused me from my reveries by crying, “Happy Birthday, Jesus!” a fourth time and wielding a wide grin. By now, Georgia and Griffin were laughing.
“How do you know about him?” Griffin asked.
“It’s not a him,” Jane retorted. “It’s a her.”
“You mean God’s son, Jesus?”
“It’s a her!” Jane insisted.
‘Just one of the many mysteries of the season,’ I told myself, and we wrapped up the meal with a lively round of “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.”