A Mother's Diary

Fiorella Nash FAITH Magazine September-October 2006

My employer used to remark that I had a face like a storybook and was incapable of hiding how I was feeling. Well, I will have to work on my poker face from now on if I am going to survive another mummy and baby sing-along. Not that I actually realised I was attending a nursery rhyme session at the time; I was convinced we were doing baby resuscitation that week. I felt almost as ridiculous as I had done on the previous Sunday morning, when I sat in the porch of the church during Mass to feed my baby and a passing lady offered me fifty pence, thinking I was homeless.

When I realised which way things were going, my look  of mortification was so complete that everyone laughed, giving  me a few seconds to examine all possible escape routes and find  that there really was no way out. I suddenly remembered the  sight of my father years ago at a Brownie Guide jamboree he had  accompanied me to, sitting red-faced in the audience whilst some  beefy Brown Owl with a guitar barked: “Come on now mums and  dads, join in after me:  On top of spaghetti, all covered with cheese  / I lost my poor meatball when somebody sneezed.” Stammering  my way through a chorus of The wheels on the bus go round and  round with Hugh Ambrose on my lap looking distinctly unimpressed,  I understood exactly how he had felt. Imust be getting old.

“Don't you sing to your baby?” I was asked.
“Oh yes,” I promised, feeling like a negligent mother, “but I tend to sing opera and things.”
“Oh how marvellous!” [the health visitor is an opera fan too] “Would you like to give us a demonstration?”
“Erm, no.”

Anyway, E doesn't entirely approve. He was  horrified when he got home the other day and found me rocking  Hugh Ambrose to sleep to the tune of Dido's Lament. I am not sure  what all the fuss is about; a fair number of nursery rhymes ought  to come with parental guidance warnings. They are either cruel  [could somebody please tell me what Three Blind Mice is in aid of  exactly? ] or have dodgy social or political origins, whether it is  Jack and Jill who were definitely up to more than drawing water,  Goosy goosy gander making snide sideswipes at the Jesuits, Ring  a ring o' roses listing the symptoms of bubonic plague or the hokey  cokey parodying the Mass. And if anyone thinks I am singing Hugh  Ambrose that International PlannedParenthood ditty There was  an old lady who lived in a shoe, they've got another thing coming.

However,  a  musicologist  friend  insists  that  singing  nursery rhymes is essential to develop children's cognitive skills  because of the precise pattern of words and music. Well, if Baa  baa black sheep is all that stands between my son and stunted  mental development, he shall have it sung to him at every possible opportunity - until I am arrested for inciting racial hatred.

Hugh Ambrose was welcomed into the Church shortly after he turned six weeks. The baptistery at Our Lady and the English Martyrs is quite beautiful and Hugh Ambrose's cries resounded through the neo-Gothic church. A friend made him a baptismal candle with the symbol of Hugh of Lincoln [a swan] and the symbols of the Benedictines and martyrdom for St Ambrose Barlow. A good  combination of saints - a bishop who had the guts to stand up to  the authorities [his logo ought to be a flying pig] and a Lancastrian  martyr.

I had forgotten how beautiful the ceremony is and really did feel proud to be a Catholic as the priest said: This is our faith, this is the faith of the Church. We are proud to profess it - and I felt glad that I could bring my son into the family of the Church in the presence of those who brought us for baptism once.

Later on, I joked about Hugh's persistent crying to a friend.  She  observed that it can't be very nice to be placed in the arms of  some old man who doesn't smell very nice. I answered that the  priest was my uncle [well, E's honorary uncle actually] and that  there was nothing wrong with his personal hygiene. It never ceases  to amaze me the breathtaking rudeness people think they can  indulge in when talking about the Catholic faith and in particular  about Catholic priests.
I was jarringly reminded of the difficulties Hugh Ambrose  will face, growing up a Catholic in a country where a fundamentalist  atheist can get away with claiming that people who bring up  their children Catholic are worse than paedophiles. If my own  experience is anything to go by, by bringing him up a Catholic I  may be condemning him to fights in the playground, bullying in  the classroom, being endlessly baited at parties/lectures/social  gatherings [always by self-professed open-minded liberals] and to  seeing his faith lied about and depicted in wholly negative terms by  every possible media outlet.

But then, as my Auntie Joanna pointed out, when he gets  to Heaven and Edmund Campion asks him what it was like being an  English Catholic, being stitched up on TV debates may pale into  insignificance compared with being hanged, drawn and quartered in  front of a large crowd. And Edmund Campion may indeed remind him  that being claimed for Christ was never going to be a comfortable  experience.

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