As I took both kids to church this morning by myself since Tony is out of town, I remembered how not long ago, I was trying to do this every week while he was doing his RCIA classes. He had to sit with his class and then leave after the homily, and I had to figure out how to get Nora to church while mega pregnant and then with a newborn. On one of these weekends after Charlie was born, Nora made a run for the altar after Communion. It was one of those moments that happens completely in slow motion. I saw her look back at me, smile mischieviously, and then run even faster all the way to the altar and to the priest. I chased after her, babywearing little Charlie and all, and we caused quite the scene- the look of surprise on the priest’s face when I finally got to her behind the altar will be burned into my memory forever. Many comments of Nora’s future Olympic track career happened as we made our way out after church. To say it was mortifying is an understatement, and I took a break from taking the two of them by myself for awhile.
Luckily, this morning did not include any track practice, and Nora not only stayed in the pew, but also semi-participated. Of course, she was a wiggle-worm per usual, but she also sang along with some of the songs, did the sign of peace, and sat/stood when everyone else was. Now that Charlie is getting more mobile and chatty, he’s starting to become more of a handful at Mass too. God must’ve been watching over us closely today, though, because Charlie fell asleep in the carrier sometime after the homily. It was a major success in my books, and we treated ourselves to Culvers after 🙂
As I said before, I took a bit of a break from taking both kids by myself after Nora’s great escape and figured out Masses I could go to either alone or just with Charlie. Tony had his confirmation around Easter and could sit with us at Mass again, so Nora got to come along again. It helped so much to have another set of hands, as it tends to work best if both kids are being held, but she still is a handful. It’s important to me to introduce our children to Jesus and the Church from a young age, and I’m a full believer in Jesus saying to let the little children come to him applying to the kiddos being at Mass whenever possible. However, that’s easier said than done many weekends, and there are weekends here and there that end in tears (on both parts). Here are some of the strategies that we’ve started to make our mass-goings a little less eventful and a little more fruitful. (Disclaimer: these don’t work for us every weekend! Try at your own risk 😉 )
1) Books- in church and out
Nora LOVES books, so this works pretty well with her. Sometimes she gets angry when we don’t read them out loud to her, though, so we have to do some whisper reading at times. When she was a little younger, we did books with flaps that would last a little longer. One of our favorites is the classic Dear Zoo. Now that she’s into “big kid” books, I’ve been trying to do more faith based books. Our current favorite books are I Went to Mass: What did I See? and A Missal for Toddlers. Both of these books talk about what happens at Mass, so reading these before church helps Nora know what’s happening while we’re there. If we read them during, we have her point to where the different objects/people are at our real church. This has helped her IMMENSELY, and I’m so glad we got these. Finally, we have The Beginner’s Bible: Timeless Children’s Stories that is a little longer than a normal board book with beautiful pictures and succinct Bible stories, so it’s fun to go through at church.
I generally have Charlie in a front carrier during church so that I can have my hands free to help Nora with whatever she’s doing/ make sure she doesn’t eat it off of the kneeler she’s standing on. This was especially helpful when he was a newborn because he could nurse and sleep easily in it, and I could also hold Nora. I also did this with Nora when she was a baby, and it was so helpful to keep her content in those bitty baby months. Now that he’s a little more wiggly, he’s not as content to sit in the carrier. However, I’ll still bring it in if I think he’s going to need to nap during Mass or if it’s just me, like today. We use the Boba Wrap or the Happy Wrap when they’re really little and then switch to the Ergobaby Carrier when they’re bigger. I definitely get some interesting looks when I end up wearing Charlie and also have Nora on my hip, but I guess #catholicfamily?
3) Participating in the Mass
I’ve really started trying to get Nora to be more a part of the mass in the last couple months. We’ll point out the priest, candles, ushers, crucifix, holy water, etc. She likes to find the different objects/people- we just are working on making her “Found it!” a whisper instead of a shout… She also has been picking up on some of the songs and prayers- the Gloria and Alleluia are favorites! It’s not so much staring at the back of people’s heads if she also feels like she’s participating. Plus it’s so cute to hear her little voice as it sings “Glory to God…” and says the Our Father. It makes us feel like we’re doing something right bringing out squirmy 2.5 year old into Mass. The only thing that really kept her attention today were the songs- I told her beforehand that she had to whisper except for at the songs when she could sing as loud as she wanted to, so she even joined in with the cantor only parts!
I try to pack one “Activity” each week just in case we need something extra during the homily or other need to be quiet parts. Sometimes it’s lacing activities (like these or these), sometimes it’s stickers and a coloring page, sometimes it’s our Melissa & Doug Reusable Dry-Erase Activity Pad , and sometimes it’s one of our Melissa & Doug Water Wow! pads. We don’t always pull out these activities for Nora and have been trying to keep her attention mostly on the service, but they always come in clutch when we have to use them!
For Charlie (and for Nora when she was younger), we make sure to pack a lovey and some teethers to play with. Our current favorites are his ChewsLife rosary, these teething keys, and this teether. He’s starting to get chatty in Mass and never took to a pacifier like Nora did (we called it her plug), so we’re trying to figure out what level of baby chatter to allow before getting up out of the pew. So far, we’ve stayed in the pew and let him chatter a bit.
This one is a little controversial. We’ve decided that we’re okay with a little bit of food if it’s seeming necessary. I’ve tried Cheerios in one of these cup things, but Nora ended up with them alllll over and it was a disaster. We’ve had success with the applesauce or baby food pouches since it’s minimal mess and it takes her a little bit to suck it down so she’s quiet for that time period. Lately, we’ve been doing fruit snacks for her. I try to hold off until the homily and then use them if she asks to buy us a little time of quiet. It’s been worth it for us to catch a little break- especially since she knows exactly where in the diaper bag the snacks live and will ask for them repeatedly until we open them. Toddlers are fun.
6) A Whole Lot of Prayer and Patience
I think this applies to all aspects of my life right now, but especially during the testing time that Mass tends to be with small people in tow. When we are actually able to get to church before Mass starts and not during the first song (about 25% of the time right now…), I include being able to pay attention and having patience with the kiddos in my beginning prayers. I find when I’m able to do this, I’m at least able to catch snippets of the readings and homily. We actually got there ahead of time today (a small miracle), and I included Nora in my beginning prayers, so they also included her behaving and being kind.
It also helps to know that someday the kids will sit nicely and pay attention, and I’ll be able to pay attention to the full mass again without pulling an endless supply of things out of the diaper bag. This is only a season! In the meantime, I’ll snuggle my babies close, whisper sing songs and whisper read books, and then catch up on the readings when we get back home.
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