Sunday, March 30, 2008

Only Human

We have spoken recently about trouble with 3 year old boys, and mine is giving me fits! This morning I was on my own (with five kids) for Mass, and my little boy made me so angry that I, well, got angry. Getting angry in church gives me a feeling of frustration and guilt which sometimes makes me even more angry, either at the child or, for some reason, at the Church, God or the Priest. This is usually followed by an internal debate about whether or not, being this angry at a baby for not staying still, the priest for giving a homily or God for asking me to attend church makes me unprepared to receive the Eucharist.

This morning, however, something different happened. When I took the noisy child to the vestibule, I looked him right in the eye and said "we are offering this hour to God, however imperfectly." Speaking these words, I internalized them, and I remembered that the imperfection of his behavior and the imperfection in my heart were both, to my Lord, childish imperfections. Only Christ is the perfect sacrifice, and His sacrifice perfects ours.

I think of it like this: my children are learning to make their beds. They straighten the sheets and pull up the blankets, but the bed is still a wrinkly mess. I appreciate their efforts and I take time to smooth the covers, so that the bed is well made. I know that they will keep working at it, that they will have good days and bad days, and that if I expect them to do a "grown up" job I am being too hard on them. I do, however, expect them to try.

God is a strict but loving parent, I know that He wants me to do the best I can to prepare for the Eucharistic sacrifice, but that he is also expecting to have to smooth out a few wrinkles in my soul before it is ready to receive the body of Christ.

13 comments:

Right Said Red said...

Amen. Great post!

Bethany said...

Thanks.

I needed that reminder; especially with a busy week a head of me.

B-Mama said...

Beautiful words, Mary Alice!

It was so good for my soul to read your post after a potentially harried, stressful Mass experience yesterday. Within the first 5 minutes of seeing my children's antsy behavior, I threw in the towel and headed to the cry room. And what a blessing that decision was! GG ended up joining us and we all had a very sacred time together, being the only ones there. Talk about relief of my Mass woes!

I walked out of church feeling rather renewed than my usual frazzled. With Christ in view, my children are definitely not perfect, but NEITHER is their wayward mother! What an appropriate thought post-Easter!

Anonymous said...

I totally relate, and I only have one! Generally cry rooms are frustrating to me because not only am I distracted by my own kid, I have to deal with others' distractions. Any good suggestions on strategies for keeping little ones happy in church?

JesusThroughMary said...

If you're the only family in the cry room, that's one thing. If you're in the cry room at our parish, it's a nightmare - it's always packed to the gills, filled with distractions, and the loudest place in the building. Plus, you're seated directly behind the lector - since the cry room was originally an extension of the sacristy, it's basically on the altar. We have been blessed with a 20-month-old that's relatively good in church, but there are certain things that we do to try to minimize bad behavior at church. The first is making sure he isn't too close to his nap time during Mass. If he's awake for more than three hours before the beginning of Mass, he won't make it through.

During Mass, he often will get excited about things he sees (angels, the Pope, Mary, etc.), and will inform us as to what they are. I don't get upset about that because (a) he sounds louder to us than he does to everyone else, (b) he's not causing a distraction, and (c) I think it's helpful that he's found a reason to enjoy being at church.

If he is causing a distraction through squirming or yelling or whatever, and a book or milk don't work, we take turns walking him around in the back of the church or in a side doorway. If we go in the cry room and he sees a bunch of other kids playing and running around, he wants to join in. When I have to take him out of church, I make sure he knows that it's punishment and not a reward, and that we're going to go back in. Then I say some prayers with him and try to take him back in. It doesn't always work, and sometimes one of us misses most of Mass. We'll see what happens in the next six months to a year.

Juris Mater said...

As far as encouraging good Mass behavior goes, the moms I know who have several kids who are well-behaved recommend sitting in the front. Our kids are far better behaved when we're not in the middle or back rows, stuffed in among wild Kashi-cracker-crunching kids and distracted adults. When we sit in the front, the kids watch what happens on the altar because it's right there, and they notice (like jesusthroughmary said) the priest, the tabernacle, the saints and the flowers, etc. HOWEVER, the front can also be the kiss of death. As soon as one of the kids decides they've had enough, we're SO far from refuge in the back of the church... the torturous walk of shame all the way down the aisle commences. But the good outweighs the bad: the kids' behavior is FAR better, and my husband and I can pay attention much better.

Additionally, Mass is one of the established times that we will spank the kids. Yes, we get flabbergasted looks from others in our yuppie parish, and I'm sure it's only a matter of time before the cops escort us from Mass in handcuffs. But we give the kids a series of warnings, and then they get walked to the back, spanked, and brought back in. Otherwise, it gets SO messy... they have an incentive to act out (tantrums, hitting us, screaming, throwing things, ANYTHING and everything), because they get to go back to the funhouse in the narthex or the cry room where the cheerio-crunching, electronic-book-entertaining fiasco begins. We're very sensitive to not making our kids dislike Mass because it's one of a few times they get spanked, but we refuse to be subjective about discipline or surrender the upper hand when it comes to reverence during Mass.

Are your cry rooms as wild as ours are? Everyone from the dads in exercise shorts with their handheld-video-game-laden kids to the people without kids who arrive at Mass 3 minutes before commmunion set up shop in there. It's like a holding pen for all those who are counting the seconds until the priest says "the Mass is ended" (or, even worse, until they get their hit-and-run eucharist then make a mad dash for the parking lot). They drive me slighty nuts.

Anonymous said...

Most cry rooms I've ever been in have been zoos! Thanks for the great suggestions so far...I know there are more out there, ladies!

Kat said...

Our preference has always been to keep the kids in Mass with us, since we want them to get used to the rhythm of the Mass and to experience the celebration with the community. Our current parish does have a nursery but no cry room...I would actually prefer that a church have neither option available, because I think that parents feel more pressure to keep their kids out of Mass if the church offers one of these services. For example, if C were behaving really poorly at Mass one day, I would feel more pressure to send him to the nursery if that option was available.

I think that it's natural for kids to make some noise during Mass, especially of the variety that jesusthroughmary was speaking of, where the child is babbling or asking questions (semi-) quietly :) I always remind myself that I'm sure there was plenty of background noise when Jesus was preaching or when the early Christians celebrated the Eucharist. It seems unnatural to me that we would expect silence during Mass, when it is meant to be a celebration for the entire community, including our children. That being said, if my kids are being noisy to the point where I can't hear what the priest is saying or I feel that others are visibly distracted, I will walk to the back of the church with them to calm them down. This happens less frequently when we sit towards the front of the church and when we are surrounded by other families.

C definitely does better when we sit close to other children, because he sees that there are other kids like him at Mass and also because he can observe their good behavior :) He also does better when he is sandwiched into the pew so that there is no escape route, and it works best if there are strangers on one side so that he's a bit more shy :) However, he has recently wanted to make sure that we have a whole pew to ourselves, I think because he wants the freedom to roam :)

We do let C bring a snack to Mass, but I know that a lot of you discourage that with your children. Have any of you received advice on this from a priest? I think that C is almost old enough that we need to phase the snack out, but it can be such a life-saver during a long homily!

Mary Alice said...

We do no snack, no toys. We have just found that they wind up creating more noise, more distraction and more mess as our kids fight over and fling the baggy of cheerios or the sweet board book about Mary!

Finding the mass time that works best for your family and sticking with it is a big help, we have the worst behavior when we were rushing, the kids are hungry, etc. Also, getting there a little early so we can talk about what we see on the altar can help.

I think that 3 year old boys just can't sit still that long, though. I am thinking that I might have to put him on a leash and take him for a run!

Right Said Red said...

We do no snack and no toys. Like MaryAlice, I have found that snacks and toys are ultimately more of a distraction than a help. I do bring a pacifier or a favorite blanket, as that helps to keep a kid in quiet mode. We do not go into the cry room, except to change a diaper. The cry room is usually a zoo, and I find my kids don't even recognize that they are in Mass. We prefer to take our chances in the church, sitting in the front row, and if need be walk a child to the side vestibule for a stern talking to for poor behavior. The front row does wonders for my children's behavior!

Right Said Red said...

Oh, and like Juris Mater, we do dish out an occasional spanking for poor behavior during Mass. It helps to keep our kids quiet in the pew AND time in the hallway is NOT seen as a reward ;-)

Meredith said...

Beautifully said Mary Alice! I'm right there with you!

stephmomof6 said...

Thank you, Mary Alice, for reminding me of something so important at a time when I needed to be reminded! God bless you.

Stephanie