On those very rare occasions when all 10 of us attend the same Mass – Christmas, Easter – we have been told that we look like the perfect family: well-behaved, clean, kneeling and standing at the right times……perfect big Catholic family. We’re not perfect of course, but it’s kind of nice of them to say. What people seem to have thankfully forgotten is that it wasn’t always that way.
It wasn’t so long ago that I was THAT mom making a beeline for the vestibule with a screaming newborn whose demands for food were louder than communion bells, booming priests and ambitious church choirs. Or grabbing the toddler by the scruff of the neck before he disappeared under the pew. Or snatching the gum out of the curious hands that found it under the seat. Yeah, THAT mom….eight times over.
We still laugh about #4’s obsession with all things firefighter and as a 3-year old he had a fireman hat permanently perched on his head. The only time he would agree to take that hat off was for baths and bed. With our pastor’s blessing, he wore it to church along with his matching bright red Superman cape. He was a sight to behold. One Sunday, while walking up to receive Communion with my husband, #4, with superhero strength to match his superhero outfit, managed to break away from hubby’s grip, dash faster than a speeding bullet past me and head straight for the communion bells placed at the base of the altar. Before we could stop him, he was ringing those bells like the church was on fire. How fitting for a firefighter; how embarrassing for his mom and dad; and how hilarious for everyone else.
Then there was the time at weekday morning Mass that #6 got away from extremely pregnant me and made it as far as the organ at the front of the church before I caught up to him. I don’t know what was worse – waddling after my son or carrying his screaming, kicking body out of the church hoping he wouldn’t put me into labor. Fun times.
We used to resort to desperate measures to try to keep the kids quiet during Mass. Feeding them junk food seemed to do the trick. One of our parish priests had a practice of giving the little ones lollipops in the vestibule after Mass. I used to take extras every week and save them for the next Sunday when I would use them as pacifiers. Usually this trick worked, but the kids got so used to them that we had to keep shoving more and more of the suckers into their mouths as they became super-efficient at eating them. It got to the point that the ushers would hand me lollipops as we entered the church – one bundle for each young child. I told the priest that I would start sending him my dental bills.
At the time, coping with young kids seemed so daunting and frustrating. We thought it would never end. But it did. All too quickly. Looking back, it wasn’t so tough and we have some wonderful laughs over their antics.
When my husband and I, and our kids for that matter, see young families struggling with little children on Sunday, we make a point of encouraging them and helping out when we can. It’s not easy. The last thing parents need to deal with is criticism from people who are less than sympathetic to the plight of young families at Mass.
To parents of young children, I know it’s tough but it doesn’t last. The important thing is, you are taking your family to church. One day, you’ll remember the way it was and have a good laugh. You’ll look down the pew at your impeccably dressed, beautifully behaved family and thank God you persevered. And you and your family will encourage and help that mom and dad with the screaming toddler and the hungry newborn.
Mass is beautiful. Little children are beautiful. They belong together.