Young children belong at Mass. They should be invited to worship and always be welcomed by the Body of Christ, not just on their Baptismal Day or when they’re old enough to understand the Eucharist (at what age does that exactly happen anyway? Does anyone ever fully understand the Eucharist?). I believe all of this with every fiber of my being. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t days when I’d rather leave my kids at home. It doesn’t mean I don’t often find myself praying, “Please, please, God, keep Rae quiet. I know she says she’s hungry, but I just fed her. Can’t you fill her up until Mass is over? Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do? Give us our daily bread? Please, please? And, please-oh-please, don’t let that rumble in the baby’s tummy mean she’s about to empty her bowels. I don’t have an extra diaper. My bad. Lord, hear my prayers! Amen!”
Frankly, some Sundays are very, very difficult, especially when my husband is working, and I have to juggle three kids solo.
The girls have actually been doing quite well with the exception of Rae always saying she’s hungry at least a half dozen times and Mary Elizabeth’s (M.E.) very vocal protests when we don’t allow her to kiss everyone nearby. The child puckers her lips at strangers all of the time. She loves the Sign of Peace, but she wants to do more than just shake hands. Let’s get physical, physical. I wanna get physical. We’re hoping her lack of inhibition subsides before the dating years.
Since moving we’re settling into our new faith community, and I’ve been so very happy with the way my children are welcomed at Mass. During one celebration when children all around (not just my own) were singing like angels (and sometimes Metallica), a woman next to me smiled and then whispered, “Well, the children are certainly happy to be here today.” I wanted to kiss her. I really did. But I figured that wouldn’t be setting a very good example for M.E.
This past Sunday – thank the Lord – the older girls were very well-behaved. However, Mary Elizabeth screeched like a howler monkey several times. When she did make her very loud noises, no one shot me a nasty look. No one groaned. No one even did anything except smile. Yes, smile! Then the man beside me said, “Your family is beautiful.” Never mind that he must think loud primates are beautiful. Then as we were leaving, a woman came up to me and commented on my sweet daughters. “Thank you,” I said. “I’m sorry we provide our own soundtrack.”
“Not at all,” she said. “I have four daughters. I understand.” I looked at her four grown (and quiet) daughters, a lovely quartet of girls with red hair and creamy skin dusted in freckles, and I thought, “She hasn’t forgotten. She’s a mom who hasn’t forgotten even though her girls are grown and don’t poop at the most inopportune times what it’s like to have young kids and to be doing your best to bring them to Jesus without distracting everyone else away from Jesus.”
And I realized that I don’t just bring my kids to Mass because I want to tend to their spiritual selves as much as their physical and emotional ones or even because I want them to fall in love with the faith while they’re young. I bring them to Mass for me, too, so that I grow in patience, so that I can grow in love. I go to Mass as the brilliant wordsmith Betty Duffy so beautifully put it recently because Jesus wants me to be there. And he wants my kids to be there, too, if not for them, then so that I can be reminded on the days when I want to cry or scream or surreptitiously pinch or do something, anything to get my fidgety, noisy kids to just be still and be quiet – that God’s grace abounds. Sometimes it’s not as obvious as when it’s found in the Eucharist. Sometimes God’s amazing grace is unexpected and maybe even undeserved (like when you’ve actually considered pinching your child) and can be found in the smallest things like the encouraging smile or generous compliment of a stranger. I’ll take it whenever and however I can get it.