What really scarred me in childhood wasn't school, it was church. Just hearing my parents say the word "church" would create sick feeling of dread in my stomach. I hated going.
For those not familiar with the finer points of a Catholic Mass, let me fill you in. It's an hour of cycles of standing/sitting/kneeling punctuated with droning prayer and off key singing. For me this was normally prefaced with an hour of screaming about us not wanting to go, which one of us wasn't dressed appropriately, and how we were going to be late. This fiasco was in my cards for every Sunday as a kid.
By the Catholic definition of "Mass", it is supposed to be a celebration; however I always found it more akin to self-flagellating suffering. My experience was probably worse than most. With my undiagnosed ADD, every minute seemed like an eternity in hell. If I were to rest my butt on the pew during one of the drawn out kneeling sessions my mother would pinch the back of my arm while angrily whispering "Get up!" If my knee would start bouncing due to my unbridled kid energy, my mother would put her hand on my leg and angrily whisper "Stop!" If my siblings and I would get in a fight during, my mother would angrily whisper "Quit it!" and proceed to scold us on the car ride home about how embarrassing we are. We'd try not to laugh.
I'd try as hard as my little kid heart could to be good. I really did. I would gaze listlessly at beautiful stained glass windows that lined the sides of the church and poured in colored light. I would scrutinize at the large mosaic behind the alter, wondering how long it took to make and if any of the small colored glass titles ever fell off. In my adolescence I would check out girls, and if they were in front of me their asses. I'd then lament the eternity I'd spend in hell for checking out girls in church. But mostly I'd zone out and daydream about skateboarding or whatever I was into at the time.
There was a clock on the choir loft in the back of the church, which was so tempting to me. Only problem was I'd have to turn completely around to see it. I'd have to trying to time it when my parents weren't paying attention. There were also certain points in the mass that would clue me in to how much more I'd have to endure. The homily meant that it was half done. The Communion meant I was nearly done with my religious prison sentence.
Over time my parents relaxed on the Sunday mass thing. Eventually, only going on the obligatory Christmas and Easter, and then not even doing that so much. With the exception of weddings and funerals I haven't been in church much, if at all in the past 10 years. When my parents asked me to go with them this year, I was fairly unexcited, but since they've helped me a lot in the past year I decided to not put up much of a fight.
Apparently the church they had tandem massing going. One in the church and another, more child oriented, in the parish hall across the street. My parents opted for the kid's mass, which was fine by me. I'd take crying kids over rigid formality any day.
I felt like I was in a time warp when I walked in. It was the first time in over a decade I had been in the place where I had gym for eight years growing up. It still even smelled the same.
Since it was in the hall, the kneeling was replaced with standing. The nervous energy that I overflowed with as a child has long since been replaced with a sleepy grogginess. Since my bother and sister have their own little families, they weren't there to fuck around with. There was nothing pretty to look at, so I looked around and marveled that everything was exactly the same. From the scoreboard, to the banners, to the brown acoustical material on the walls. No girls to check out meant no hell to lament. I didn't have to turn around to see what time it was, just look at my watch. I still felt a little guilty doing it.
Time went by much faster than it ever had as a child. I had only a vague recollection of when to sit and stand and the recited verses (none of which I even attempted, but I did laugh to myself whenever my father messed a line up). The homily was smack on the half hour mark as I remembered.
Mass always concludes with something along the lines of, "The mass has ended, go forth in peace to love and serve the Lord", which is responded to by the congregation with, "Thanks be to God!" As a kid, I always fumbled through the other crap throughout the ceremony, but was exclamatory about the last line, because, well... I really thankful it was over. I still was.
Merry Christmas and shit.