COPING WITH KIDS AT MASS
"Let the little children come unto me"
I remember the first time I took a baby to Mass. My husband Tim and I had been married a year. Our first daughter, Rebecca, was one week old. She was born a month prematurely and had to spend some extra time in the hospital. Late on a Saturday night, we finally took Rebecca home. Tim and I stayed up most of the night feeding Rebecca, changing her tiny diapers, and making sure she was breathing.
When the sun rose at 6 a.m., we were still awake. "Let's go to early Mass," Tim suggested. I was too tired to disagree.
We bundled Rebecca into her car seat and drove to church. In the early morning hush, sunlight streamed through the high, stained-glass windows. Rebecca slept like an angel. She never stirred or moved or cried out. I looked down at her face in peaceful repose and thanked God for this most amazing gift. As Tim and 1 walked out of church, I said, I was a little nervous about taking her to Mass. But she was so good. I hope it's always this easy."
It hasn't been. Rebecca is eight now. She has two younger sisters and two younger brothers. Since Rebecca's first Mass I have spent my share of Sunday mornings trying to nurse a squalling infant to sleep during the homily or walking with a squirmy, cranky toddler in the vestibule. Some days I've wondered if all the effort was worth it, but of course I know it is.
Over the years, Tim and I have learned a few tricks about getting babies and small children to behave during Mass. The number one panacea for babies is food. If you're nursing, go ahead and nurse. If you're bottle-feeding, be sure to bring along a couple of bottles. As the baby gets older, make sure it has a full tummy before leaving the house. It's a more considerate alternative to Ziploc bags filled with Cheerios, Rice Chex, or raisins. Ushers hate collecting crumbs or scraping squished, half-eaten raisins off a pew on Sunday afternoon.
Out of courtesy to the people around us, Tim and I observe the one scream rule. Little baby noises or whispered questions are okay. But if one of the kids lets out a really loud noise, Tim or I take the child out to the vestibule or to the cry room. For our older kids, we bring along something to read. At a local Catholic bookstore we found lots of colorful, age-appropriate books on the lives of the saints.
For the most part, our efforts have paid off. Rebecca pays attention and participates in the Mass. Our two middle girls read their books. And the boys? Well, Johnny spends most of Mass exploring the rocks outside the church's front entrance. In time, he and our baby, Benjamin, will join their sisters in the pew.
As we try to teach our children the correct way to behave in God's house, we're grateful to the other people in church who act charitably toward children. There are times when I'd like to remind people that our Lord said, "Let the little children come unto me."
Of all places, children should be most welcome in a Catholic church.
Leslie Ryland, a graduate of UCLA Law School, is a columnist for The Reader, a weekly newspaper in San Diego, California. She lives with her husband and five children in San Marcos, California.
Be Magazineï¿½ 2001
January-February 2001, page 8
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