My two boys are now 2-and-a-half and 1-and-a-half, and those halves are important, as they are only 15 months apart. I often wonder if I will lose all my hair by the time they’re 5, but I am so grateful for their presence in my life. Truly, there is nothing better than our Sundays together at church, but sometimes I’m afraid that I might be the only person that treasures our time at Mass.
My parish is as kid-friendly as they come. I’m particularly grateful for the lively community and worship at my parish, as during most times of the liturgy our praise is louder than my kids. We don’t have a family room or “crying room,” so there is no place for me to run and hide with my chatty boys who love to sing, dance and end every song with cheering and clapping, even after the most solemn of hymns. I am forced to be in community, and my community is forced to be with me.
My favorite recent memory is of one of our greeters. After I apologized profusely for the behavior of my son, who was slamming his Easter book against the back of the chair, she said, “The sound of kids is the music of the Church.” Amen! She understands that when Jesus said, “Let the children come to me” they surely weren’t the quiet, cooing ones; they were the cranky, hungry, bored, can’t-sit-still-for-more-than-five-minutes types.
Sure, there are days that I am sure the guy sitting next to us wishes he had chosen a different seat, like when Nolan fell off the chair and was not only screaming but bleeding. Whew. I can’t blame him. I understand that it is 100 percent easier to hear the pastor’s homily when there isn’t a 2-year-old next to you. I can’t even imagine being on the altar preaching as chaos hits the back row, so I give our priests credit.
Over the past few months, my boys and I have had the privilege of going to a number of different churches – most Catholic, some not. I quickly learned that not all church communities are as “welcome-feeling” as mine. Oftentimes, I walked in feeling like the only person in the entire church with kids. Some, interestingly enough, welcomed dogs and cats, which I thought was awesome, until I had to keep my boys away from the animals for more than two seconds … we had to leave. Some offered day care or Sunday school, which was sweet, but for parents who work and send their kids away for care all week, sending them for even one more hour on a Sunday is hard. I wanted a shared experience of church. Believe it or not, in some churches I even heard comments like, “We NEVER allowed our kids to bring fruit snacks to church,” or “Parents nowadays have no control over their kids” and I even had one zealous usher escort my fussy 1-year-old to the back door for me. In these cases, I got the not-so-subtle hints, and left.
These experiences made me grateful for my own parish, which has stuck with me since I was 16. Now a mother of two amazing and sometimes crazy kids, they accept me still (my boys are probably less of a hassle than I was at 16). They know that at the 10:30 a.m. Mass, the back two rows will be kid central. The two little girls behind us will share pretzels with my boys as they make peek-a-boo faces at the man with his baby in the corner. It will be nothing close to solemn, but very much worship and praise.
So, I guess, on behalf of all parents with young children:
I apologize to those of you who come to church to hear what anyone else was saying other than our kids. As much as we discipline, bribe and distract, our kids will find a way to make themselves known, heard and responded to.
I assert our place in the back row with our noisy kids — or even in the front for the risk takers. Know that we don’t intentionally cause our kids to scream or laugh or burp. And when our kids do any number of those things, it does not make us bad parents; it makes our kids, well, kids. When our babies were baptized and screamed at the top of their lungs the entire time, you knew then what you were signing on for when you promised to support them in faith.
I thank the healthy parish communities made up of individuals who have Christ-like patience and understanding during the laughter, tears and fights-over-whose-red-crayon-it-is, which disrupt liturgy. Thank you for your continued commitment to the faith development of our children. Lisa Calderone-Stewart always calls our youth “tomorrow’s present.” It is a neat play on words, meaning that kids and teens are the gift of tomorrow, all the while recognizing that tomorrow is here, so let’s treat them like they are gifts today. A sincere “thank you” to you parishes and community members who see our kids as gifts, not as hassles, distractions or burdens.
And lastly, I invite other parents of young children to join me at Mass. It’s scary, I know. You never know how they will behave; it’s always an adventure. It’s way more hectic than taking the kids to a restaurant. You don’t want to have to run in and out. I know it. But here’s the deal, finally, 2-and-a-half years of going with one and then two kids, it is starting to feel like going to Grandma’s house. That is how comfortable the faith community will feel and become. But it takes two things: first, a community with true faith and commitment to kids and families; and secondly, and more importantly, our kids’ and family’s continued attendance. We just need to show up, even when it is hard. Presence is half the battle. Our kids and our parish communities are worth it. They are counting on us.