Since Susannah's visit last summer, we'd been dreaming about visiting Balmoral and Dunnottar Castles. Last year it didn't work because she came in August and Balmoral Castle is closed to the public then due to the Queen's annual Scottish holiday. Why she doesn't want to spend it with thousands of her closest tourists milling around outside her house, I have no idea. So this year she (Susannah, not the Queen) came in July, and we were determined to make it happen. We found a hotel between the two castles and made our itinerary including going to church. During our summer outreach in Edinburgh, one of our college students, the daughter of the pastor of a church close to where we were staying, told us to check it out casually mentioning that it also happens to be the church the Queen attends whilst staying at Balmoral Castle. We were thrilled to hear of an evangelical church in the area as it's very hit or miss in Scotland and maybe a tad star-struck at the idea of attending the Queen's church, so we put it on the itinerary not expecting her to be there since her annual stay at Balmoral begins August 1st.
We had a great day on Saturday visiting the town of Stonehaven where Dunnottar Castle is perched on some sea cliffs over looking the ocean. It has been an unusually hot and dry summer (by hot I mean low 70s), and Saturday was one of those perfect days. The castle surroundings were breathtaking and were accompanied by the sounds of a bagpiper piping his tune by the entrance. And besides an unruly 3 year old (ahem, Seth), it was a fun visit. We finished the day off with a trip to Stonehaven's outdoor heated pool and the kids, Taylor, and Susannah braved the water while Susan and I watched (it was way too cold for me even with heated water and 70 degree weather! Susannah commented that it was like swimming in Houston in January:)). I marveled at the hearty bikini clad Scots as they soaked up the "hot" summer day while I shivered under Avery's Minnie Mouse towel.
When we returned to the hotel, news that the Queen had already arrived in Scotland caused us to wonder if she'd be in attendance at church the next morning. We were excited at the prospect, but we're betting the likelihood was small.
It was a rainy, dreary Sunday, and as we walked through mud puddles up to the church steps, four serious looking people barring the entrance came into view...our first hint the Queen would be there. They asked us if we were members, and we sheepishly said no afraid they might turn us away. After examining my diaper bag, telling us photography was prohibited inside the church, and asking us to turn off our cell phones, we felt pretty sure she'd be there. We complied and nervously piled into the church with our brood of 5 children ages 7 and under.
I always get anxious when we visit country churches in Scotland because they are rarely big enough to have a nursery for children. We filed into two pews on the left back side of the church, and I began scouring the bulletin for notice of child care and came up empty. Let's just say I should have asked someone! I prayed holy slumber over my two and passed a Cliff bar to Caroline, my three year old niece, who was already making sounds about being hungry for lunch. We situated ourselves in the pew as strategically as possible, and I unloaded my arsenal of books and snacks for my two in hopes they'd keep quiet and then finally allowed myself to scan the crowd. The congregation was a buzz no doubt doing the same as me. Snippets of whispers floated around us. Do you see her? What is she wearing? And shhhsh! as parents tried to keep young children quiet.
From our vantage point we could see most of the pews pretty well though we hadn't yet spotted the Queen. I could hear the people in front of me whispering that they could see her as they craned their necks towards the nave to the right of us where she was apparently sitting and wearing pink. I couldn't spend too much time trying to spot her as Avery took that opportunity to join the chatter except 16 month olds don't really have church volume meters. I handed her to Taylor who was sitting on the outside of the row, so he could make a quick exit if necessary. I was on the inside with Seth on my right, and my 5 year old niece, Lizzie, sat between Seth and Taylor. I contemplated moving next to Taylor with Seth, so I could leave easily too if needed, but Seth was being really quiet, focused on his Cars book, so I took my chances.
After about the first hymn, Taylor had moved with Avery to the back of the church so he could stand and sway to keep her quiet. She'd put her head down on his shoulder and suck her thumb until every time a new hymn played and she was jarred back to an upright position and would start making noise again. During the first prayer, they had to bow out completely because it was obvious "holy slumber" was not to be achieved. I turned my attention back to Seth. Lizzie had taken advantage of the extra pew space and spread out all of her Color Wonder pages. Seth quickly spotted one with Mickey Mouse on it breaking the silent reverie his book had been providing. I cringed as he switched places with her in order to grab it, but thankfully Susannah saw it coming and gathered up all of the papers before he could make a fuss. Lizzie sat with streaming tears down her face, Caroline was starting to ask for food again, and Seth was now prostrate on the pew. I dug hopefully for his pacifier (don't judge until you've been in a church service with your 3 year old and the Queen of England) thinking maybe he'd just fall asleep, but he refused it. And the next thing I knew, he had escaped the pew and was running full speed toward the back of the church and yes, the pastor had just begun preaching, so all was completely silent besides the pastor's soft voice and my 3 year old's top sider's slapping the stone floor. As quickly as I could, I scooched around Lizzie in the narrow pew, freed myself into the isle, and hoofed it to the back of the church as lady-like as I could in my dress and flip flops trying to make as little noise as possible. I reach the back of the church just as Seth ducks under the back pew and starts crawling under the pews back toward the front of the church. Needless to say I am beyond horrified at this point and my adrenaline is racing. I see him in the gap between two pews, stick my arm in the space, and in one motion swing him up into my arms. I don't recall if either of us said anything at this point because I blacked out.
Not really, but I erased all of the details out of my mind because do I really need to explain myself?
We marched out the back doors, and I breathed a sigh of relief as the tall wooden doors swung closed behind us. My relief was short lived as I tried to open the even larger wooden front doors to get out of the church to no avail. I knew I couldn't put Seth down in case he tried to escape back into the service and 3 year old boys are heavy! So here I am in a 6X6 foot vestibule with quiet preaching and the Queen of England on one side, freedom on the other and myself stuck in the middle with a 3 year old who also has trouble with volume control. I shushed him and tried to figure out the medieval looking door with its plethora of iron locks. And I just couldn't do it. I then panicked as I pictured the Queen having a processional after the service which would end up with us face to face in the vestibule where she could personally give me a talking to for my child's misbehavior. It must have been at that point that desperation took over and I started to make too much noise trying to open the door because one of the deacons quickly came to my rescue freeing the door (and more importantly us) to the outside world. He kindly told me about the nursery around the back of the church. I stifled the urge to scream, information that would have been helpful BEFORE THE SERVICE STARTED, but not being one to make a scene unless my 3 year old forces me to, I must have just smiled and nodded and then sprinted to the alleged nursery.
After successfully depositing Seth in the nursery where I met up with Taylor, we were let back into the service for the final hymn. I breathed a sigh of relief and then the heavens opened up and there was the Queen. OK not really, but now that I was at the end of the pew, she was perfectly in my line of vision. I was so excited to see her and then it dawned on me that she had the perfect view of Seth's little escapade. Great - my chastisement might happen after all.
I got over my embarrassment and tried to enter into the last bit of worship before the benediction where the pastor prayed for Queen Elizabeth and Prince George, and then we ended with "God Save the Queen" to which Susannah and I sang "My Country Tis of Thee" instead because hey, we're American.
Later on that day at the Balmoral Castle cafe over an ice cream cone, Susan asked Seth what he thought about running away during church. He thought to himself for a minute and then solemnly declared, "it wasn't a good idea."
|Lizzie, Me, Susannah. and Lillian in the Balmoral Castle garden|
|Cousins in front of the River Dee outside of Balmoral Castle|
|Me, Susan, and Tay outside of Balmoral Castle|
God Save the Queen!