Wednesday, January 4, 2012

A Memo

TO: Myself, when I am old and my child is (children are?) long grown
FROM: Me, mother of a rambunctious two year old boy
DATE: January 4, 2012
RE: A Reminder

I know that you're getting on in years now. Perhaps it doesn't feel like there's much to look forward to. Perhaps you have aches and pains that are getting the best of you. Perhaps you are lonely.

Perhaps you will still attend daily Mass sometimes. Perhaps your hearing isn't what it used to be. Perhaps it makes it difficult to concentrate.

Perhaps there will be a mother sitting in the back row, day after day, wrestling with her small child. He might be a chatty little thing, no matter how frequently and fervently his mother shushes him and how many times she retreats to the vestibule.

You might be tempted to say something to her. Not words of encouragement, mind you, but words of criticism. You might be tempted to admonish her that her child's joyful noise is a distraction, that she should take him away before he can disturb other worshippers. Before he can disturb you.

Should you feel so tempted, think back to this day, and remember how deeply a few unkind words can cut a mother struggling to rein in a toddler's exuberant energy. Recall how you worked, day after day, to get yourself and your child up and dressed and fed and to Mass on time. Remember the careful balancing of priorities with every service. (Nave or vestibule? He treats the vestibule like playtime; will he learn to calm down out here? How loud is too loud in the nave? Is carrying him out the bigger distraction? Will he settle down in just a second?) Consider how you always worried that the other Mass-goers were silently judging your parenting with every noise your child made, and how it felt when, in a matter of seconds, one old woman confirmed your fears.

Remember how the tears came, hot and stinging, as soon as you realized what she was saying. How you tried to keep yourself calm enough to eke out a feeble defense--we're doing the best we can--and to genuflect in front of the tabernacle before rushing out. How you choked on sobs as you buckled your little distraction into his car seat, while he looked up at you with confused eyes. Remember sitting in the driver's seat, unable to see through the tears, making desperate phone calls to anyone who might be home, anyone who might let you come over, anyone who would tell you you're a good mother.

Remember how you considered not going back tomorrow.

Remember how you had to steel your resolve that one unkind woman wasn't going to drive you away from the Eucharist, wasn't going to deprive your son of his Lord's very presence. Recall how you told yourself, over and over, that he's the Lord of the little ones, too.

"Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them. For to such belongs the kingdom of heaven."

Should you feel tempted to criticize, think back to today. Remember how you felt.

And bite your tongue.


Sarah in Ottawa said...

Sniff! I want to hug you so badly, honey.

You are an amazing mother, and your son is so lucky to have you as his Mom. And you're so right - no one should be denied access to the Eucharist.

I am so, so sorry. I am always so thrilled to see anyone under 60 at daily mass, especially (others) with young kids.

I'll pray for this woman tonight, too.

Tracy said...

I'm so sorry this happened. And you are a good mother. And I wish she'd thought twice before shattering you like that. Training up toddlers for church is difficult - and worth it. Praying for you now, and hoping someone was around to give you a hug and the reassurance you need now, in person.

Miriel said...

I love you.

Anonymous said...

Some people are mean, and some are clueless, and it's often hard to tell the difference. I am glad you are not letting the biting comments of one (or a few) keep you away from the Eucharist.

I once wrote a letter to my future, aged self reminding me to encourage that young mom with restless kids behind me, to find something kind to say about her children, to compliment her for bringing them to Mass. Just as a few bitter words can crush your soul, so can welcoming ones make you blossom.

Branwen said...

Something tells me that your future self would never consider correcting another mother that way. Keep up that amazing work. Getting to anywhere at 8:00am everyday is a feat, that fact that it is Mass makes you all that much better of a mother!!

priest's wife said...

beautiful! This is a reminder for us all

Doing My Best said...

I'm so sorry =(! That is so discouraging!! Know that mothers of young children EVERYWHERE have great sympathy for you!

I will pray that you will have peace and strength when you return to Mass!

I will pray for that woman too; I tend to think that people who act like that do so to mask their own unhappiness. I HOPE that I will never be so unhappy that I would lash out at and wound another person who is doing her best!

Elizabeth said...

You are such a good mom, and such a good person, and I am sorry someone hurt you. Hugs.

Jessica said...

I cannot imagine taking a toddler to church every day. We took both kids to the caucus last night and I don't think I stopped shushing Margaret the whole time. She wasn't misbehaving, just exuberant and not quiet.

You are a wonderful mother.

Elsha said...

This is heartbreaking. I often feel like my kids are too loud during church and ruining it for others, but I've only ever had kind things said to me. I imagine my reaction if someone did say something critical would be just the same as your.

And what could be better mothering than getting Nate to church with you?

AmyRobynne said...

Oh, I have been in your shoes! When my oldest was in pre-k at the pre-k to 12th grade Catholic school where my husband teaches, I had a very chatty 3 year old. On a special day (Ash Wednesday perhaps?) there was an all-school Mass held in the Great Room and parents were invited. I got there early, I sat in the back, I brought things to entertain him, but he. would. not. be. quiet. Huge room full of bigger kids and silent parents with nowhere to escape to where I could still participate. A few minutes into the Mass, the Headmaster came over and asked if he could find someone to help me watch my son. At first I thought he meant there was a nursery of some sort set up and then I realized there wasn't actually anything like that and if I forced his hand, he'd take some teenager out of Mass so I could stay. I said no, we'd leave, and cried the whole way home that 1,000 people were there and I'd been the only one with an unruly kid who was disrupting things too much to stay.

It's so, so hard when the very places we most want to be accepted, where we want our children to be there and appreciate everything, and we're made to feel unwelcome.

My husband sings in our church choir most Sundays and most weeks I'm able to leave the 17 mo old in the nursery and the 5 year old in Sunday School while I sit in the pew with my 2nd grader. It's lovely now, he and I. But throw either brother in and it's such a stressful mess. My kindergartner, the still-so-chatty one, attends Mass at the same school biweekly now and I hear it goes well. I think the peer pressure of the quiet big kids helps.

Anyway, it's been 3 years since that particular Mass and it still stings. I do all I can to be encouraging whenever it's someone else with the antsy, chatty kiddo.

Hugs to you -- you're doing so well!

theandyoneals said...

I feel ya, sister. Here's my post on the same topic from 2009

Erica said...

So sorry that happened. It happens to all of us, everywhere, planes, restaurants, wherever. Don't let it change your behavior. Keep on keeping on!

claire said...

I am so sorry that you were treated this way, and I'm very glad that it's not going to stop you from going back to daily Mass.

A'Dell said...

Why do people have to do this? Does she think that you don't KNOW he's being a bit squirmy or chatty? "OH, THANK YOU FOR POINTING THAT OUT TO ME! I HAD NO IDEA!"

And this idea that children do not belong or are not welcome in church unless they can be absolutely silent and still is, well, it's kind of dumb. It's unrealistic and dumb.

I'm sorry you had a crap encounter with a cranky person.

Sarah in Ottawa said...

I have been thinking about this all night, Lauren. I worry about being reprimanded by fellow churchgoers for our rambunctious little ones (both of whom are still under 3 for a couple of weeks). Particularly because in my childless days, I was one of *those* uncharitable folks, thinking "Why can't the parents control their kid?" though I never articulated it.

So now, I think I'm going to have a canned response which will be as charitable as possible. Your words about denying neither your child nor yourself from the presence of the Lord are going to form the basis for this reply.

But ARGHH!! How else does this woman think that children learn about their faith and the liturgy, other than by repeated exposure?

Dr. Maureen said...

Oh, Lauren, that's awful. What is wrong with people? Let me say that 99% of mass-goers understand the challenges of bringing little ones to church, and are not troubled by the "distraction" they cause. It's not as though you were letting him run up and down the aisle or something, and it's also not as though he's old enough that he should know better. He's TWO. And you, frankly, are a hero for getting to daily mass with a two-year-old. So ignore that cranky old woman.

Jamie said...

OH, it gets better. Hang in there.

Rosemary said...

She was just a jerk. You sound like you're doing a great job.

I'm the one who commented about Siena Academy, remember?

I should send you the series of talks Maggie Radzik (from there) did - did you ever hear her speak? Anyway, she does talk about mass, and it is charming because she says you cannot control them "the life force within them must move." She says you try to stay as long as you can (like sometimes through the opening prayer), then you go back to the oh I don't know the nave or the vestibule - the one that is behind closed doors but the parents can still see? And they can move all they want back there. I know you weren't asking for advice, I just loved that life force quote (I think it made me feel better b/c I was like well I can't fight the life force!)

Rosemary said...

oh that is until they are about 5 - at about 5 the life force can be tamed some - my 4 year old is going to atrium and is interested in mass more now, so his life force has chilled a bit.