I trudge down the steps, diaper bag slung over my shoulder and the baby in my arms. Four little feet clomp behind me. “1, 2, 3, 4!” I hear. “2, 3, 4!” says the other one. Giggling ensues. More clomping. “Shhh.” I whisper. “Please walk softly.” We head into the bathroom.
We emerge 10 minutes later, the baby wearing only a shirt and a fresh diaper, his chunky bare legs wrapped up in his blanket. I used the spare set of clothing in my diaper bag the other day and forgot to replace it (this happens far, far too often). Four little feet thump out after me. “I can get a drink, mommy?” I sigh a little. “Sure.” I shift the baby to my right arm and precariously balance the toddler on my left knee so he can reach the drinking fountain. He slurps the water with his little red lips, and then turns and grins at me. “We go back upstairs now!”
We plod back up the stairs. “Now what are we supposed to do when we get back in church?” I ask. “BE QUIET!” my three year old says, not so quietly. “We have to-” then his voice drops low- “whisper in church.” The two year old stops to sniff the fake Easter liles on the way in. We slip back into our pew.
I hand their books back to them. It’s “Great Men of the Old Testament” for the two year old. He likes to sit next to me and have me turn the pages for him while he looks at the pictures, and I can never get over how the Great Men are posing like celebrities. We turn to the page with Noah (who bears a striking resemblance to Victor French.) “Mommy, an ARK!” I raise my eyebrows; that was not a whisper. “The ark. Look, there’s a rainbow!”
We soon head up for Communion (after inhaling the aroma the fake lilies again). This is the part that always worries me the most. Please, guardian angels of these dear children, I pray. Let them go up to Communion without knocking over the Paschal candle, or the poor soul who has the misfortune of being in front of us in line. Attendance is sparse today, so the line is short. I kneel down to receive, baby in my arms and with a TIGHT grip on the 2 year old’s hand. “Mommy! There’s Uncle Pat!” the 3 year old says far too excitedly, pointing towards the altar servers. My eyebrows shoot up so fast and high, they are now flush with my hairline. I would put my finger on my lips, but, both my hands are occupied. But he knows this look and gets the hint. “Mommy, there’s Uncle Pat! We have to whiiiisper in church.” he whispers. Yes, Uncle Pat is serving today. Poor Uncle Pat is trying so hard to keep a straight face.
I receive Holy Communion with the 2 year old’s hand still firmly in my grasp. We turn back towards the pews, and 3 year old bounces along, grinning and waving at fellow parishioners as we walk past. “Fold your hands,” I mutter under my breath. “My hands are too tired today,” he says in a very un-quiet voice. Once we are back in the pew, he leans over and whispers, “Mommy, is church all done?” “Almost!” I give him an encouraging smile. He replies very matter-of-fact, “Church is not really very fun.” (!!!) Oh. my. I’m not sure if it’s appropriate to laugh or cry. He smiles sweetly and turns back to his book.
Just then, a little elderly lady behind us taps me on the shoulder. “I can see your halo,” she whispers. “You’re doing good, mama. Keep it up.”
Thank you. Thank you so much, sweet lady. By this point, my self-doubting is firmly entrenched, and I have started to wonder if we should have even come. You have no idea how much your kind words mean to me! No. idea.
The same “church is no fun” 3 year old blesses himself with holy water on the way out, and whispers, “Bye, I love you Jesus!” My faith is restored, but still a bit shaken. At least we avoided the temper tantrum today. Can’t say the same about last time.
According to her sister, Zelie Martin was “distressed that her children showed no signs of piety.” (I take this to this mean that they frequently complained that church was not fun.) All five of her children who lived to adulthood entered religious orders. Her youngest is known to us as St. Therese of Lisieux, and a case for sainthood is being made for her other four daughters. Zelie herself, along with her husband Louis, have since been declared Blessed. That is enough to give us just a little hope for our children who are sometimes stubborn and difficult – even the saints struggled!
Toddlers mature, new babies grow into toddlers – into that awkward “I’m a toddler and I have my own opinions about what I want to do and going to Mass is not one of them” stage. They do and say things that we KNOW they haven’t learned from us! We just want them to be GOOD, why won’t they be good!?… Sometimes we wonder, “Why even bother?” But we have to persevere; to learn to laugh and not take them or ourselves too seriously. It’s so tempting to get frustrated and angry at these little people, to skip mealtime or evening prayers because “they don’t really understand,” or to keep them home until they are old enough to learn proper Mass behavior. But Jesus said “Let the little children come to me.” He wants us to teach them to pray. Even if we feel like we aren’t “getting anything out of it”, we are setting the example for our children: God is important. And I’ll give you a sympathetic smile when your toddler throws a fit during Communion if you promise to do the same for me. We’re both doing the best we can. And hopefully the sweet elderly lady will smile at both of us. She remembers these struggles, too.
We are called to raise these little souls for heaven. God gave us these little people not only for our enjoyment, but also for our sanctification. Some days we feel like we are just trudging along and everything is falling apart. Let’s keep trudging. Sometimes we will fall, and fail, lose our temper, and want to run away. But we need to keep feeding them spiritually, even if they don’t always like it, and even though it is difficult for us! If we plant the seeds of faith in our children, we can have joyful hope that the roots will take a firm hold, and that those little seeds will sprout and blossom into a beautiful love of Christ. And that is our whole goal: to know, love, and serve Him in this life so that we may be happy with Him in the next.
This is the wonderfully hilarious Fr. Winkler book with the movie star Old Testament heroes. I’m not getting perked or compensated for my recommendation, but I really should be because I tell people about it all the time and because everyone I’ve shown it to has belly-laughed at the pictures along with me. The stories are good, too. But the pictures are priceless.