A sweet group of Catholic friends of mine like to share each week the things their toddlers did during Mass. I suppose it’s like a mini support group for moms of little ones who may (or may not) have lost their little bitty minds while in Mass. We all know that our kids’ behavior can be downright mortifying and can make us want to crawl under a pew in embarrassment. To share with one another helps us know that we are not alone and those of us who have older kids can assure the others that this stage will indeed pass and no, your kids will not be acting like this forever.
One of my friends shared that she had been to Saturday Mass and she happened to turn her head to see one of her little ones with her underwear down and her tiny hiney in her sister’s face asking her to look. Oh how I giggled when I read that! It reminded me of a time long ago when Savannah, who is now almost sixteen, was but a mere two years old. She was wearing one of my favorite dresses, a cute denim Mini Mouse dress that has a peter pan collar and snaps all down the front of the dress. We were standing up and singing when I heard a very peculiar sound. I turned to see that she had taken her dress and pulled at the collar allowing each one of those little snaps to pop free. As she pulled they popped in a row and came completely undone. Then, with no shame and with no thought at all, she let the dress fall to the floor. She happily stood in her panties, tights, and little black dress shoes singing at the top of her lungs. My eyes got big and I gingerly set down her baby sister Emma, hastily picked up her dress and put it on her as quick as I could. I sighed a deep sigh of relief when she was once again fully dressed and said a prayer of thanksgiving that we happened to be sitting in the last pew of the church. Still wanting to be naked, Savannah frowned at me and crossed her arms. I whispered to her, “You keep those clothes on young lady!” I was relieved that she decided to listen. Thinking of my friend I remembered the hot flush of embarrassment across my cheeks. But time has since turned that embarrassment into humor and I love to remember that day. I hope my friend will look back with humor too one day.
This Sunday I held Leo, who is 11 months, in my arms while he screamed. I came prepared and so it was very short-lived as I fed him Cheerios and a bottle to calm him down, but, nevertheless, I was embarrassed. This is a relatively new thing for him and not many of my other children have ever cried in Mass. Why is he now choosing to scream and fight me at Mass? Any other day he loves to just be held, but in church…. no way! It’s frustrating and sometimes overwhelming. I don’t particularly like to be the center of attention and to have any eyes on me, especially to have them on me for a screaming baby, well, I’d rather forgo that attention! I also hate to feel like one of my children is bothering others, especially while they are praying.
We are so conditioned by society to think that children must be seen and not heard and that leads to feelings of mediocrity when our kids act up (especially in Mass!). But as a beloved priest told our congregation over and over again, “Children belong in Church! When I hear babies and children in Mass I know that there is life; I know that our parish is growing; I know that parents are bringing their children to know God! I love to hear kids in Mass!” Over the years I have clung to his words and allowed them to ease my discomfort on the occasions that my kids do act up. This Sunday was no different. As I felt the heat in my cheeks I reminded myself that he’s just a baby. But, even though he’s just a baby he is still an important part of our congregation and he needs to be there fully present at the Mass…. even if that means occasionally he lets out a scream or two. I know, I know… you are saying “But those around you need to be able to concentrate and a screaming baby can hinder their ability to participate!” Yes, I completely agree… if a child is out of control, please, take them out of the church to calm them down (been there, done that!) but in general a scream or two or a child who being a little silly is not a hindrance and should be allowed to stay put.
After Mass was over I was approached by a friend who said, “Did Leo sleep through Mass?” I laughed and said no, he didn’t sleep at all. I asked her, “Didn’t you hear him scream?” My friend, who was only a few pews ahead of me shook her head and said she didn’t. That made me feel a little better. Sure, Leo may have let out a scream or two but more than likely the majority of the church didn’t even notice! I was probably the one most affected by it. I would have my suspicions confirmed when I was approached by another person who said to me, “Your kids are always so good in church, what’s your secret?” I smiled and asked if didn’t she hear the baby scream a couple times. She answered that all babies will cry or scream at one time or another but that doesn’t mean they aren’t good and that she just thinks our kids do fabulously at Mass each week. That embarrassment and frustration melted away.
I guess if I had to give advice it would be this… don’t be afraid to take your children to church because you worry they will do something silly, or will cry, or scream, or take off their clothes. They are kids and kids don’t always follow the “rules” but they still need to be at Mass with us worshiping Christ. Jesus tells us, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” and if Jesus wants the children to be there, who are we to say no? Sure, they may come naked, singing at the top of their lungs off-key, or crying huge crocodile tears for some reason only they can understand, but they belong there every bit as much as we do. Please, take your children to Mass and write down those stories that embarrass you right now. You will smile (and laugh!) one day at them and in the process you will also be giving your child the gift of faith and belonging as well.