Parents can probably all testify to the phenomenon that occurs whenever we have children in a slightly more sacred, quiet setting: church, a library, a performance, a fancy restaurant. Something about that quiet space makes our kids want to fill the quiet. Usually with something embarrassing. Whenever you bring all your kids into one of those settings, you are rolling the dice. Sometimes they will shock you and behave angelicly, leaving you even more stunned when they belt out a swear word the next time. You see, if there is quiet, it may be because they are plotting next week’s chaos.
I suppose we bring the chaos upon ourselves by going to the earliest possible church service, but during football season the way our family is able to attend together is to set an alarm for 6:15, scoop the kids out of bed, grab bananas and some coffee, and hurry out to the big van to get to church at 7:30. What began as necessity became a routine for the rest of the day that we kind of liked, and so early morning stuck.
For us it has always been important to have our kids in church next to us. I grew up going to church on Sundays, and even as a kid I especially liked the way Sunday morning set the tone for the week. We started together, and even when the morning was stressful, something about holding hands and saying the Lord’s Prayer brought our family back together from whatever sibling squabble or stressful situation that had divided us. Church was a peaceful time to sing and pray and be together. And then I had kids.
The first kid was easy. She was sweet and bright-eyed, and everyone loved to see her sweet face at church. I still remember the very first time I brought her with me, only a few weeks old, during football season. Nick was at work. (That staff didn’t have Sunday mornings off, something I’ve since come to really appreciate.) I was tired and alone and thought having one new baby at church was so hard. (I didn’t realize then what an “easy” baby she was…I know better now) A kind older man standing beside me in the back row, reached over quietly and took my new baby from my arms and said “here I’ll give you a break.” I honestly don’t know why, but I let him hold her. The man had hands that showed he worked hard for his living, but he gently held my sweet baby girl and gave my arms a moment to rest. He handed her back a short while later and simply said “I have 6, but they are all grown up now.” That was the first time I realized as an adult how important church community can be. And how lovely the encouraging words of other parents, especially those who don’t look like they are still in the crazy years, can be. That hope that at least this part will get easier. I didn’t know how badly I needed a break that day, and maybe he really needed to hold a baby for a minute. We were there for each other. Strangers in community. Those were the days. One sweet sleepy baby.
As the years have gone on, and the kids have gotten older, we’ve gone through many stages of kids in church. Our oldest son wasn’t great at standing still during church as a toddler, but his favorite thing to do was to wait until we scooped him up as he was about run out of the pew, and to yell out “OW!!! You are HURTING ME!” Nothing quite feels as humbling as your child yelling at you during a church service.
Now with 5 kids we are horribly outnumbered, so we really just rely on the oldest kids to behave and know the youngest won’t…at least not the whole time. The wisdom of experience has at least taught us that.
Recently the kids have started choosing the front row as our prime spot at 7:30 mass. In some ways, sitting right at the front means even the youngest kids are more engaged because they can easily see what’s happening and stay more tuned in. And then when they talk it’s mostly to ask questions like “Mommy, can Jesus hear me?” (Yes, everyone can hear you.) However, it also means the ENTIRE church got to see my 3-year-old flailing about as I carried him noisily out of church this week. It also meant that last year, my sweet little boy, after seeing our Head Coach a few rows up at the beginning, took the opportunity in the middle of the service to yell out “You are a BAD mommy!” No reason. I was just singing and praying and holding the little guy. I must have done something horrible like asked him to whisper or tell him we didn’t need to go to the bathroom for the third time. This has become one of Coach’s favorite stories to retell. The plus side of that humiliating moment is that I can now say “You don’t want Coach Clawson to see you behaving badly, right?” to straighten my guy right up.
While the vast majority of people encourage us as a family with small kids, and many older couples stop to tell us about the beautiful families they raised, every once in a great while you run into a church goer who had hoped to sit in a “child-free” zone or at least maintains the delusion that it is possible to keep a 3-year-old silent and still for an hour, and gives a disapproving look or an exasperated sigh. It is my greatest pleasure when my sweet rowdy boy turns around to shake their hand and say “Peace be with you,” and finally brings a smile to their faces. Because sometimes we just need a rowdy little kid to remind us why we are up before the sun rises to go pray together. Because we all need Peace to be with us. Moms of many may need it most of all!