I am living with the Virgin Mary.
Mary, in case you were wondering, is three feet tall with tangled ringlets pulled back into a ponytail, tied with a bow. Unlike traditional portraits that show her in blue, my Mary tends to wear her St. Monica uniform jumper, which is red plaid. On weekends, though, little Mary has a more relaxed look, with jeans and a t-shirt. While for centuries Mary has been known for her serene, patient smile, my experience is that she is alternately sweet and sassy, and we are working on curbing her bossiness. Most importantly, though — and this is what makes her Mary — is that she rarely, if ever, is without baby Jesus.
My daughter Jamie, 4, announced she was Mary last week after her kindergarten Christmas program. Her K4 class had sung Mary Rock Your Baby, My Lord, and all the little girls in the class were given baby dolls to hold and rock during the song. Jamie came home from the program, picked up her own doll, told me it was Jesus, and has been in character for four days straight. This has made my Advent.
Jesus’ manger is a light blue plastic rectangular laundry basket. Jamie lined the basket with every baby blanket in our house and drags her manger around behind her, baby Jesus wrapped snugly inside. Anyone who comes to the house is invited to visit the manger.
“This is Jesus,” she told her older brother’s friend Mac, as he watched the Packers game at our house Sunday. Mac, who is 12, and has no little sister at home, didn’t quite know how to respond, but being the polite kid he is, he nodded, reached into the laundry basket and patted Jesus on the head.
Jamie believes “Bethel” is a verb, and uses it as such. “I will Bethel him, Mom. Don’t worry baby Jesus, it won’t hurt when I Bethel you.”
This morning, while I was working on the computer, Jamie tapped me on the elbow. “Baby Jesus needs a bottle,” she said. “Will you Bethel him while I go get it?” I glanced at baby Jesus lying in his laundry basket manger in the hall.
“What exactly does ‘Bethel’ mean, Jamie?
“I’m Mary, not Jamie,” she corrected. “You just carry him. That’s how you Bethel-him.”
I picked up Jesus and brought him into the office. Jamie nodded, satisfied and went to get his bottle.
Baby Jesus comes with us everywhere. At the post office, Jamie had the good fortune of having the woman in front of us ask her what her doll’s name was.
Jamie told her. I’ve never seen so many people smiling in line at the post office. Jamie sang him Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star on the way home in the van. As she sang, I decided that there was no reason the star of royal beauty bright couldn’t also twinkle.
There are some theological inaccuracies to Jamie’s days with her little Savior. For one, Jesus’ gender is relatively fluid. Some days, he’s a boy, but when Jamie wants to put a dress on her baby, Jesus simply becomes a girl. This agitates Liam, 9, who has no problem with Jesus sleeping in a laundry basket, eating plastic food or being brought out in the cold with no jacket (or even swaddling clothes). Hearing a feminine pronoun applied to Jesus puts him over the edge, though.
“Jamie called Jesus ‘she’ again,” Liam hissed to me before dinner yesterday. I looked at him. It was clear he thought his sister was being heretical. Long college discussions about why we should use inclusive language swirled in my mind. I had no response for Liam.
“Jesus is a girl,” Jamie bellowed from the next room. “You can see that she’s wearing a pink bonnet!”
Another moment I couldn’t bring myself to correct occurred one evening, when Jamie curled up with baby Jesus and told him that soon, when he got a little older, he would be adopted. Jamie, who was adopted out of foster care at 20 months, thinks that adoption must be the high point of every toddler’s life. What could I say? Even if I could have broken the news to Jamie that Mary didn’t adopt Jesus, how would I explain why Joseph is called the foster father?
While Jamie has mastered the main points of the Nativity story, some of the subtleties still elude her. While holding Jesus and talking to him yesterday, she tried to explain the story to him.
“And, guess what, baby Jesus. God is your . . .” she paused, unsure. “God is
your. . . special friend. Is that right, Mom?”
“God is Jesus’ Father,” I said.
Jamie’s eyes widened at this news.
“Jesus!” she squealed, holding the baby up so she could look right into his eyes. “God is your Daddy! Yes, that’s right, honey, God is your Daddy!”
Jesus looked pleased.