We went to Mass again today. Abbey (4), Joseph (nearly 2), and myself. We arrived early, we had a quiet, non-messy snack and spill proof water bottles and coloring sheets with us, and we took our time looking at and using the Holy water to bless ourselves with the sign of the cross.
We strolled slowly toward the second pew, taking in all the works of art and different interesting things about the church (small children find so many things interesting, don’t they!?), and settled into the second pew, exactly where we sat last week. Joseph pointed out the working dog that accompanies one of the older ladies sitting in the first pew. I reminded him that we’e not going to bother the dog. He’s working. Then I walked Abbey through kneeling and saying a prayer. She was completely adorable and very serious about her prayer.
“In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen. God is great, God is good, he will visit us today at church in the bread. Thank you God! Amen.”
Abbey got busy looking at our board book bible, quietly talking to herself about the pictures of the scriptures. Joseph decided he wanted to walk to the end of the pew (the rest of the pew was empty) and back. I took a deep breath.
We are remembering the rules of Mass! I thought. We were starting out strong.
A Friendly Voice of Discourse
One of the ladies in the first pew turned around and informed me that there was a “children’s room” in the back of the church that would be more appropriate for Joseph.
“I know that it is there, but we have tried it and it does not work for us. They get bored in there, and I feel that it is a place that enables screaming and crying, and separates us from the Mass. We’re going to attend mass right here, because this is what is working for us.” I said. For good measure, I added “I don’t think that they will disturb anyone with sounds of joy or raising their voices in song”
I felt like that was polite, and explained my position well. I didn’t want to say “There’s no way I’m sitting in that loud, insane penalty box where neither I nor my kids can see anything!”
How it Went
Mass went well. We sang, we prayed, we mostly remembered that the kneelers are for our knees and not our feet. . . Abbey enjoyed her children’s church class, and Joseph only got a little impatient during the homily and creed, during which, I just participated in mass by walking him on the sides of the church. It pleased him, calmed him down, and made it so that I could participate and didn’t have to leave Mass.
Abbey returned to us after her class, and I reminded her of the rules. I also reminded her that it’s important to be quiet during the consecration and the liturgy of the Eucharist. I tempted her curiosity by asking her to watch carefully for the bread, which the Priest would make into the Body of Christ with prayer. . . it all went remarkably well. Abbey and Joe were only trivially mischievous, and we enjoyed Mass, all the way through Communion.
After Communion, I decided that we would make our way down to where fellowship happens after church for some quiet time before donuts and refreshments. Last week, it was at the announcement time that Joe lost it, so I decided to just avoid that by stepping out proactively and letting him run and play a bit downstairs while the hall was still empty. He played with some toys and Abbey and I read a book.
We were eating our donuts and refreshments when the same lady who had suggested the “family room” before mass came up to seemingly pseudo apologize for what she said. It wasn’t so much an apology as it was an attempt at smoothing over what she had said. “I hope you weren’t offended by what I said before mass” she said.
I ensured her that I was not offended and that we had enjoyed Mass. What she said next, though, was the kicker. If I were a different type of person, the following discussion probably would have embarrassed me and made me feel like never coming to church again.
“It’s nice to have children in church when they are older and understand Mass, but at his age (pointing to Joseph) it’s just not age-approriate” she said. And then, the kicker. “I’m sorry, Do you understand what age appropriate means?”
As if I’m an idiot of a parent? Jeesh.
“Yes, I understand very well what age appropriate means, and I am guiding him through the Mass experience in an age appropriate manner. I can’t expect him to sit the whole time, he tries his best. I do believe that my children are enriched by attending mass, and I will be attending Mass with my children, whether you think it is age appropriate or not. How are they supposed to learn that Mass is important to our faith if we never attend? How will they learn, if they’re never here?”
She replied, “You can bring your children, but only when it’s appropriate” she said. Again she asked me if I knew what age-appropriate is. “I mean, have you ever taken a child development course? Age appropriate. Do you know what that means? If you are frustrated and he is frustrated, then no one gets to enjoy mass.”
Ladies and gentlemen, I was hot under the collar at this point, but I wanted to be nice. “I understand fully what age appropriate means”, I said, “and I am sorry that you have an issue with my children attending mass. It is in no way inappropriate for them to attend with me, and I will continue to listen to their needs and attend mass as long as it works for our family. I seems like you have an interest in continuing to talk to me about this, but I do not like your patronizing tone, so I’d like to end this discussion in a friendly manner. . . right now, please”
She had no idea what to say to me. I honestly couldn’t believe I had kept it together and not cried while she tried to convince me that I . . . 1. was stupid, 2. was wrong, and 3. shouldn’t be bringing my toddler to Mass. But I did keep it together, and she just walked away.
“Thank you” I said as she turned away from me.
I’m sure she had a lovely time chatting about me with her friends over coffee, and I felt like a bit of a freak, sitting alone with my children, eating donuts and drinking orange juice while the rest of the congregation milled around me, but I stuck to my beliefs, and I let my children know how proud I was of their behavior at Mass, and their interest in our faith.
A Little Bit of Salvation
I’m glad I stayed for a few more minutes instead of leaving right after my conversation with the “it’s not appropriate” lady. . . because a man came by and told me how beautiful my children are, and then another came by and said “they grow up so fast! Enjoy them now while they’re little!” He also reminded me, when I asked if they had been quiet enough in church (because of what the lady said to me about age-appropriateness) that if anyone says anything to me, to remember how many people were in attendance that didn’t say a word.
“How many people were up there at Mass with you?” he said.
I answered “About 200?”
“See, ONE out of two hundred people. Think of the 199 members that didn’t say anything abrasive. We are glad you’re here, and I hope that you won’t let the words of one church goer color your opinion of the whole church. Fr. Gary loves seeing children at the mass. I hope that you come again!”
So “Let’s Call it a Wash” Again
So, I’m calling this Sunday another wash in the scorebook. Mass went well, with only minor impatience on Joseph’s part, and a little goofing off from Abbey, and for the one abrasive “you’re wrong to bring your children to Mass” comment, there was a comforting comment from the nice man with the mustache – that reminded me to remember this Sunday for the joy I feel in sharing my faith with my children, instead of the comments, well meaning or not, of those who might disagree with me.
I’m feeling pretty good about my dedication to going to church with my children and teaching them about Mass from an early age. As long as it continues to work for our family, I will continue to do just as I am doing. . . it’s honestly been going a lot better behavior wise than I expected. Now, if I can just stay consistent.