As newly confirmed Catholics, we are aware that attending church is an obligation; as in, you must attend church unless you are physically incapable of making it into the pew. I have fond memories of holding my husband’s hand during prayers and the tears that came streaming down my face as I felt Jackson kick for the first time during a hymn. Once the kids arrived, the story was different.
Jackson has always been active and hard to contain. In fact, if we try to keep him corralled in one area he starts to panic and eventually wail hysterically. There is a fine line we have to walk between giving him a little freedom to avoid a meltdown and him racing cars on the altar. When he was learning to toddle, we ended up taking him out to walk around in shifts, meaning we each got to hear about half the Mass.
With the addition of our second child, we are each hearing about 1/16 of the Mass. Jackson struggles against being contained and makes more noise when told to keep it down. Archie is teething (he is teething forever and for always. Until further notice, he’s fussy and his mouth hurts) and really frustrated that he can’t move around much on his own. He arches his back and thrashes, and then playfully coos and giggles during moments of complete silence, while also getting nervous and whiny when everyone is singing or praying in unison. Keeping the kids from ruining Mass for the hundreds of other parishioners is a physical and mental struggle akin to training excited puppies to sit and stay. Someone always makes on the carpet.
Today was no different. We decided to try the Cathedral downtown, which isn’t far from our rental. It’s beautiful, but the acoustics aren’t great and it was really difficult to hear the speakers and even hymn lyrics. It might have been because we were sitting in the back on the side in case we needed to beat a hasty retreat. After the Priest asked us to greet each other before the service began, Jackson loudly declared it was time to leave. “Sshh, be cool. Act like you remember church!” When I finally find the readings we’re listening to I figure we’ll follow along in the missal since we can’t hear well. Archie leans over and teethes on the cover, soaking the pages Robby is trying to read, while Jackson rips the other book out of my hands and drapes it over his head. I quickly swap Archie’s missal for a teething cracker, but Jackson gives me his best “come and take it” revolutionary glare and I decide to concede for the moment. He gets bored when I don’t complain and goes back to playing cars.
Tiny race cars on a wooden pew make a lot of noise, especially when you drop the little die-cast darlings into the pew in front of you, startling the women sitting there. I shoo him into a little alcove for confession next to our pew, hoping he will run his cars on the carpeted floor. No, he decides to jump up and down the one wooden stair to the alcove over and over. At this point, the 8 year old boy in the pew ahead of us turns and gives me the “where is this kid’s mother?” look. Pretty judgmental for a kid reading Goosebumps in church. I go over to give Jackson my sternest look and tell him to please be quiet and as still as possible for the next, oh man, it’s only been 20 minutes?
Meanwhile, Archie is writhing and squirming and trying to crack Robby’s sternum by headbutting him. I have run out of teething crackers and he is tossing dried fruit nibbles onto the floor (after sucking on them to ensure maximum stickiness). During a brief lull in hysteria, I ask Robby what the last reading was about, to which he replies with a wild look in his eyes, “Jesus?” At this point Archie pulls the hair of the forgiving woman in front of us who has already retrieved Lightning McQueen twice. I grab Archie and shuffle over to the alcove where Jackson is rolling around and hanging into the aisle, tripping elderly parishioners. I try my stern look on Jackson again, to little effect, and bounce Archie on my hip to keep him from whining too loudly. I notice Archie is quiet now, and look down to discover it’s because I bounced him too much and he spit up mostly on himself, but a little bit on the carpet in the confessional. As I notice the chunky spit, I feel a draft and realize Jackson is lifting my dress to examine the lining.
It’s at this point that I spin around, make eye contact with Robby, and jerk my head toward the exit. We made it 45 minutes and had to leave before communion. The church was packed and I know we were bothering other people, which makes it more uncomfortable for me. Catholics aren’t big on Cry Rooms, because you know, we should all be together during church and our kids should learn from our example how to behave and pray, etc. But when my kids are in church I get nothing out of it. I can’t hear the readings or homily over my own shushing and the grrrrr of tiny wheels on the pew seat. Some newer churches do have cry rooms, but they are hard to come by. Some also have a nursery for kids, but Jackson is pretty emotionally fragile because of the move and our temporary living situation that I can’t even fathom the meltdown that would occur if we tried to drop him off with strangers so we could enjoy Mass on our own.
My kids aren’t bad, they are young. The discipline required for an hour of stillness and quiet is not even remotely in the cards at age 3, unless there is a giant screen showing Paw Patrol behind the Priest. Even then, he’d be shouting out his concerns about Rubble and Marshall not making it in time to save the birds/kids/bears/whatever. Archie might have been pacified with nursing, but I looked down during the opening hymn and realized I couldn’t nurse in my church dress without removing it completely. Nice one, Mommy. It takes me so long to emotionally recover from each church venture, we don’t go every Sunday. Maybe if we did the kids would be used to it? I’m guessing not. We will keep looking for a good church with a Cry Room, where we still won’t hear Mass but won’t have to worry as much that our kids are bothering other people who came for prayer and introspection.
The best part? As we pull away from the church parking lot, hiding our faces in shame, Jackson looks out the window and says “I had fun in dere!” Well, that’s good I guess?