When I married my husband, spirituality was talked about, but I had no intention of going back to Catholic Church. It seemed a non-issue. When I had my first child, I heard a voice deep inside urge me to put Church back on the agenda. I assumed, and rightly so for me, that it would help to reinforce the spiritual values and concepts that I wanted him to understand. After all, a talking cucumber and tomato only does the job for a short period of time. (That’s a Veggie Tales reference for those not in the know! High five to my favorite animated produce!)
So, we church hopped. I went to every church in the Acadiana area. After a few months, much to the pleasure of the matriarchs of my family, I made a decision to head back Catholic way. But, this journey was one that I was taking on my own. My husband did not want to join. I’m not salty about this. Religion and spirituality are intensely personal. Not that I wouldn’t love to have him with us, but he must make his own decision. He says night time prayers with us and is supportive of our Sunday morning activity. That’s good enough for me!
HOWEVER. Trying to wrangle an toddler, by myself, for the entire hour of Mass is like trying to wrestle an alligator covered in Crisco. I have never sweat so much in my life. And the amounts of shushing and “we have to be quiet in Jesus’s house!” that came out of my mouth was unreal. Also, since cursing is frowned upon in Church, there was a lot of “cheese and rice” and “God bless America” as expressions of frustration when my child decided that the quiet time in mass was the time to practice his T-rex skills. Over the past 3 years of what sometimes looks like WWF smackdown in the pew, I’ve developed a few tips that may help you the next time you are in Church.
Pick your Church wisely
When I said that we went Church hopping, I mean it. I wanted to find the right fit. I looked for a Church that wasn’t too far from my house (because Lord knows it’s a miracle if we can get there on time). But, what was more important was how I felt when I was there. Our current church is overflowing with children. I wanted to be in a place where children are looked at as part of the church growing, not a nuisance. Whenever the Church’s focus is on the children, there are more parts of the Mass that are geared towards them. My little guy loves running to get his children’s bulletin. On top of that, my favorite priest who is now retired (so sad!), was focused on making mothers, especially, feel comfortable. When I would make it up to him to receive communion (looking like a hot sweaty mess who just ran a 10k), he would say “I love you momma. You are doing a good job.” It still makes me tear up when I think about it. That sort of love is what Jesus was talking about when he said “love thy neighbor.”
Pick your clothes wisely
I’m talking sleeveless and pants. And deodorant. Not the hippie kind either. Real antiperspirant. Or at least put the hippie stuff on first and then the real stuff. Taking a toddler to church by yourself is like running a marathon. And pants, please wear pants. I have shown more than a few people my business because my “active child” decided to play hide and seek with himself under my dress.
Pick your seat wisely
When we can actually make it church on time, I try to carefully pick my seat. Towards the front keeps the toddler’s attention. On the aisle because there is just something about entering church that makes the toddler say “I have to poop” at least twice during the hour we’re there. If I can choose the people, I like to sit next to a family with kids between the ages of 10-18 because they always say “it’s ok. We understand, we’ve been there” when the toddler inevitably has no personal space boundaries. Or, an older man with a big belly in a fishing shirt, because they’re probably someone’s Paw Paw and they’re used to it. Or, a very elderly lady. They think the shenanigans happening are precious and they always tell me “You’ll miss this one day.”
Let people help you
I remember one particularly active day. It was the day after Kael, my toddler, learned how to walk. I was fit to be tied. It was as if he was an Olympic gymnast and I was the uneven bars. My biceps burned and I was literally sweating onto the pews. The couple behind me, who were acquaintances of a friend, though we had never met, offered to hold Kael for me. The relief I felt when I handed over that child was immediate. I began to notice that people want to help you. They’ve been there, they understand. Let them hold the door for you, pick up the thrown toy, or occupy your child with peek a boo.
Bring your supplies
When Kael was an infant, I breastfed that kid in church whenever I could. Pope Francis, my favorite, said that if the baby is hungry, feed him. There is no need to avoid Church because of a natural, normal need. I always brought my cover so I didn’t feel awkward. Now that he’s older, he packs a little backpack with quiet toys – we always bring his boogie board, little plastic animals, and a book. Take my advice and never let them bring in cars or dinosaurs. NOT FREAKING QUIET TOYS. And if you do it once, it is oh so hard to break that habit.
Bring your sense of humor and realness
They are not going to be silent. It just isn’t going to happen. I try to keep it to a whisper. Whenever the bells ring, Kael yells out “Jesus” like he’s receiving a vision. All I can do is smile; at least he knows why we’re there!
Let them explore and ask questions
Kael asks lots of questions, about the stained glass, the statues, and the sounds. I answer them and that keeps him engaged. After mass, we are never in a hurry to leave. We walk around the church and the grounds and enjoy the premises. This is a place I want him to feel is a comfort and a blessing.
Above all, show up!
But, don’t be afraid to leave early. There are just some days when it is just not happening. I could make this a miserable experience for both of us, but why? What does that prove? I can say that the more I go, the easier it gets. And making the effort is the most important thing. We try our best to show our love and devotion to the Creator!
We aren’t perfect, but we sure are trying. I hope these tips provide a inspiration to take that leap of faith!