I used to consider myself to be a pretty good Catholic girl. I went to Mass by myself on a weekly basis, prayed regularly and just tried to be an overall good Catholic. I had both of my children baptized, but that’s where my Catholic parenting was put on pause. I dreaded the thought of bringing either baby to church. It seemed way too overwhelming. As toddlers, the idea seemed amusing. “Oh sure, my two year old in a church?! Yeah, right!” I’ve had excuses for over five years.
Since living in Florida, I’ve noticed there are a lot of church goers. I was asked by a neighbor “What church do you go to?” to which I responded “Oh, um, well, I haven’t really gone yet, but um, well, yeah I should probably think about going…..” It seems that all of my daughter’s friends are going to church or bible study or something. My daughter even once asked me “Mommy, when do I get to go to a church?” Then there was our recent discussion about Christmas. To my daughter, it was all about presents and Santa and more presents. I tried to explain to her that Christmas was more than that. It was about baby Jesus. She then asked who “cheez-its” was. I told her “It is baby JESUS’ birthday.” She then asked if we were having cake. I knew I was failing as a Catholic parent.
Since she would be starting her “Faith Classes” (also known as CCD to us old school Catholics) in the fall, I figured I should probably introduce her to church. My husband reminded me how much he hated church as a kid. I told him I remember too, but I would make it better for her. I would find a way to get her to at least tolerate it. I didn’t think it would be appropriate to bring activities or snacks, so I left them at home. However, as an “experienced” parent, I knew to prep my daughter. I explained that her and I were going to church and there would be stories and songs. There were be a piano or organ (because of course I wasn’t sure which instrument our church used.) I emphasized the fact that she was to sit and be quiet and listen nicely. I explained that she would be shaking hands with the strangers around us at some point. I was sure that she understood my instructions.
So my daughter and I arrived at church and I showed her how to bless herself with the holy water. She got confused so I ended up doing it for her. (I just didn’t feel right that she was half-blessing herself.) We found a seat and waited a few moments for Mass to start. She perked up at hearing the music. I pointed out the priest in the purple robe. I figured she’d be ok for the hour. An hour of stories she wouldn’t understand and songs she couldn’t sing to. She would be fine!
About 10-15 minutes into it, things started to go downhill. First it was the questions she would ask at her normal voice level. I reminded her to whisper and sit nicely. Then reality set in. “This is boring! This is making me hungry! Can we leave?” Crap. So then she decided to lie down with her head in my lap. Which quickly turned to thrashing, so I propped her back up on her chair. “OW! You hurt me!” Ohhhhh, great. At this point I was thinking the families around me were despising me right about now. I had no idea what to do. Make a break for it? No. I would stay and we would get through this. So I handed her the Mass book. She happily took it and started flipping through the pages. She told me she would look for sight words. Perfect….until she loudly said “THE…THE…AN…IT…IS…THE…” I tried hushing her with no luck. Why couldn’t she whisper?! So I tried to ignore her. It was time to stand. She ripped a page of the book in the process. Great.
As we were standing during the gospel, she started poking me. She started at my leg (ignore her), then my hip, then side (ignore it…), arm, then boob and again the boob. Seriously! I told her to sit down and cut it out. I am now thinking “Lord, help me” and I KNOW He could hear me, but He was probably just smiling at my misery. Once it was time to give peace to our neighbors, my face was probably crimson red. Since the folks in front of us didn’t turn around, I turned to a mother and her two teenaged daughters behind us. I put on my bravest face and shook their hands and instructed my daughter to do the same. The mother and one of the daughters smiled. The other daughter avoided eye contact.
When communion was served, I explained to my daughter that there would be one more prayer and one more song and then we could go. She asked why everyone was getting out of their seats. Since she had already told me she was hungry, I needed to choose my words wisely. “They are just going up there for a minute and coming back to sit.” She responded by asking “but what are they DOING?” I told her “they are going up to receive the body of….(no that won’t make sense)… the…the bread.” She immediately shouted “I want bread!” Noooo! I explained that it was special bread and she would get her first one in a couple of years after going to church more and special school to learn about Jesus.
Thankfully, communion was over and the church got silent. I guess she thought it was the perfect time to should out gleefully “YAY! It’s almost time to go!” Mortified. I think I may have heard a silent chuckle. Or perhaps I was desperately hoping to hear that. I was simply mortified. Thank goodness it was over. I turned to the teenager behind us and apoligised for my daughter constantly backing her chair into her knees. The teenager didn’t seem pleased but at least her mother gave me a supportive “It’s OK” look with an understanding smile. We walked towards the door and I asked my daughter if she would like to bless herself again. She responded with a firm no. I blessed myself. I felt I needed it.
We walked up to the priest and I introduced us to him. The nice man did a quick blessing for my daughter. He then asked if we were new in town. Now I certainly wasn’t going to lie to a priest, so I told him no, but I wanted to try and come to church more often with my daughter getting ready to start faith classes soon. I’m hoping my daughter didn’t see his raised eyebrow and I’m hoping he couldn’t read my mind when I thought “How in the world will I ever come back here with my daughter?!”
It took me a couple days before admitting my failure to my husband and admitting that he was right and that I was not prepared. I’m not sure when I will attempt a church outing again, but I do know that I will be bringing snacks and a coloring book with crayons and maybe a nice children’s book about Jesus. I need to at least keep her from calling Jesus a cheez-it. Baby steps. Amen.