What I Learned in Mass While Trying to Keep my Toddler Quiet
I'm a newly converted Catholic. Raised in evangelical churches my whole life, I'm used to Sunday school and massive well-funded kids programs that have entire wings of a church building dedicated to keeping children happy and away from you while you spend time in worship. Let's be honest. For a lot of us with kids, it's free babysitting while we sit with our latte in relative silence for an hour a week. At least that's how it felt to me. Church became a social activity. A place to go and see friends, get some quiet time away from the kids, have a latte at the coffee bar, and hear the praise band that sounded like a rock concert.
I'm not really sure when Jesus left the building, but it happened and I missed Him. After a long researching period that lasted over a year, I found myself in the last place I ever expected to be: the Catholic church down the street. Growing up I had been to Catholic mass and found it so foreign and boring that it was a shocking revelation when the knowledge I had gleaned from all the books and history turned into awe at the beauty that was right in front of me. The ancient rituals took on a whole new deep meaning to me that I had never known before but felt connected to, like a genetic memory. It felt like home.
But what the heck would I do with my kids? They had grown up in kiddie wonderland in every church we had attended. They got to basically party every Sunday and now I was requiring them to sit (and stand, and kneel, and stand, and sit) on a hard bench every week. It's not an easy transition to make. Catholic churches don't have Sunday school. They believe that the entire body of Christ should worship together from newborn to senior citizen. We are all in this together. One reason I believe many cradle Catholics turn away from the church as adults is because no one explained to them when they were children what this mystery of the liturgy and the miracle of the Eucharist really is, and why it's worth sitting through. And I don't have the answer on how to do that for children. It's something I will be trying diligently to do and I believe it will take work and creativity.
To make matters more difficult I have a three-year-old son. Getting through an hour-long mass is like signing up for an anxiety attack, or it was until last week. After coming home dejected many weeks in a row because I had failed to get him to behave — we spent more time in the hallway than in the mass — I felt defeated. I considered leaving them at home with their father so I could just go to mass! After all, I hadn't heard the homily, I had no idea what was said, or what passages were read. I was busy handing out crayons, shushing and trying to distract and cajole while keeping him from banging the kneeler on the floor. Even worse was the time he yelled, "I'm done! I wanna go home now," during a particularly quiet moment which had several pews of people chuckling for a good minute or so. I felt cheated. I didn't get anything out of it and I probably ruined it for everyone around us.