Of course, not everything I hang is exactly display-worthy. Some of our things are well worn. There are a few towels with holes in them. There are play clothes stained with dirt. There are underthings that I try to hide from view by hanging them behind other things. I suppose I could instead put these things in the dryer, but I do like everything, even our ragged t-shirts, to smell fresh and clean rather than of floral dryer sheets, (plus it saves electricity) so up on the line they go for all the world to see.
This came to mind this morning while on Facebook when I noticed a post from a young mom struggling with taking little ones to Mass, or perhaps I should say struggling with the difficulty of keeping little ones good at Mass. My heart goes out to her! How well I know that struggle! I remember attending Mass with a four year old, a two year old, and twin baby boys, wishing desperately our church had a crying room. I remember taking turns with my husband, standing in the back, rocking back and forth, bouncing a baby in my arms, straining to hear the homily. I remember how my face would redden when a toddler used a quiet moment of prayer to loudly announce a need to use the bathroom. I remember one small boy making a dash for the altar and how people laughed when my husband gave chase. I remember almost dying of embarrassment when in an attempt to covertly get the attention of a squirmy child I gave him or her a squeeze on the shoulder only to have that child screech at the top of their voice, "Ow! You're hurting me!" Oh yeah. No one heard that.
Years later, I'm still not much of an expert. I'm a fellow mom doing the best I can. There are (rare) days I think that Mother-of-the-Year award is almost in my grasp, and there are days (most of them) I know I've been banned from the competition altogether.
So, after almost 17 years of parenting, what works for us? How do we handle going to Mass with little ones? We adopted an insane strategy - (No, we don't bring toys or baggies of Cheerios.) we sit in the VERY FRONT PEW. Seriously. First row. Where everyone can see us. *gasp* Like my clothesline at home, everything is out in the open for others to see: the lovely and the ragged, in full view, flapping in the breeze... When our children fold their hands in prayer or sit quietly listening to the scriptures, fellow parishioners can see that. When children get annoyed and elbow each other, or baby Joey crawls under the pew, they can see that too.
Are we crazy? Most definitely. There is a method to our madness, however. Our children can SEE what's going on during the Mass! They can watch the priest and altar servers. During his homily, our priest, Fr. Pat, looks them in the eye and smiles. Not forced to sit, staring at the backs of other's heads, they have a front row seat for the action. Theirs is an unobstructed view of the crucifix, the pictures of saints, and the stained glass windows. When they squirm or fuss we call their attention back by whispering in their ears "Where is Jesus? Can you see the cross? Look at the candles. Can you see Fr. Pat saying a prayer? Can you say a prayer?" They are included. They copy our gestures. They learn to participate. They learn that they belong.
That's not to say we don't go to the back when there is need. There are times nothing works and a red-faced, squalling, little person must be carried out until they quiet down. We want our children to feel welcome in church, but we want them to learn to be respectful, too. Church is a holy place.
We still attend Mass at a church with no crying room and that's fine with me. (There is a temptation to use a crying room as a playroom.) A trip to the back is not a reward for acting up. They remain in our arms until they settle down and usually look forward to rejoining the family in the front pew.
We've been blessed with a wonderfully tolerant parish family. There are smiles and encouraging nods directed at us and other parents if we're having a particularly trying time. They are vocal in their approval of bringing young ones to church. We have only rarely had to deal with negative attitudes like those mentioned in this article. I am grateful. You see, the Mass is NOT for adults only. We are all - from the tiniest newborn babe in arms, to the most elderly among us; quiet or noisy, healthy or disabled, the lovely and the ragged- all of us are members of the Body of Christ. We all belong. Even that wild child throwing a fit in my arms.
Well, that's my two cents for today. Time to go hang some laundry.