Adventures in Mass

I was all set to write a thoughtful post about confession, inspired by Joanne’s fascinating post from this weekend, but then something awful happened.

I went to Mass.

It wasn’t that the Mass part was awful; at least, I don’t think it was awful. As usual, I was so distracted by the increasingly ludicrous antics of my 2 and 3 year olds that I barely managed to pay attention enough to give the proper responses. And I had such high hopes for today’s Mass! It’s Sienna’s first day of school, and a few nights ago she and I were talking as I tucked her into bed for the night. She admitted that she was very nervous about going to school. She was nervous that she would be too far behind her class because she wasn’t with them last year, she was worried about bullies, she was worried that her teacher wouldn’t like her…she was, in short, worried about going from being a big fish in a small pond to being a slightly smaller fish in a slightly larger pond. I reassured her as best I could without lying about the possibility that yes, she might be behind, and yes, there might be bullies, and yes, her teacher might not like her. When I saw that my tepid reassurances weren’t really having a soothing effect (shocker, I know), I asked if she would like it if I brought Liam and Charlotte to Mass on the first day of school.

Her school, being a Catholic school and all, has daily Mass for the students that the parents are invited to attend. Sienna was delighted at the prospect of seeing us (and even more delighted, I suspect, at the prospect of us seeing her in her uniform amidst her classmates) and mentioned it every day after that, even eliciting a pinky promise from me last night that I wouldn’t forget to come to Mass. So I dutifully curled my hair last night, made sure everyone had clean clothes, and made sure that all the ingredients for Sienna’s lunch were easily accessible for what was sure to be a bleary-eyed and chaotic morning. We saw Sienna off to school right on time, the smallest minions and I got dressed, the Ogre got ready for work, and we took him to his office and then drove the half-mile to Sienna’s school.

I was really thinking that Mass would be a pleasant experience today. It’s a daily Mass, after all, in an auditorium full of 1st-to-12th graders, so it couldn’t possibly be longer than a half hour, right? Plus, the auditorium is guaranteed to be air conditioned to a greater degree than the sweltering Oratory where we usually spend sticky, frustrating Sunday mornings, right? Plus it’s earlier than the Sunday morning mass, so the little kids would be in that “sweet spot” time zone right after they’d let out their post-breakfast energy but before they went into their pre-lunch meltdowns, right?

Wrong. Wrong. I was so, so wrong.

Spoiler alert: this is not what happened next...except for the indecent exposure. That part is true.

Spoiler alert: this is not what happened next…except for the indecent exposure. That part is accurate.

The parents sat along the sides of the auditorium, facing the rows of seats in the middle that held the students. It was really sweet to see Sienna’s face light up when she walked by with her class and spotted us and Charlotte and Liam immediately began screaming “Sienna! Nenna! Sienna! Nenna!” But things went downhill from there, and fast. Sienna’s class headed for the absolute opposite side of the auditorium, sending Liam into hysterics, while the rows directly in front of us filled up with high schoolers. I made the mistake of letting Liam carry one of his matchbox “security blanket” cars into Mass, thinking that it would be short, it was informal, and as long as he just held it like he usually does, it wouldn’t be distracting. 2.5 minutes into Mass, Liam began trying to run his car noisily along the side of the bleachers behind us, making enthusiastic “vroom! vroom!” noises. I took the car. He squealed in indignation. I whispered that he had to be quiet, and handed his car back. He promptly threw it at the woman seated next to us, who mercifully did not notice, but the car went into my purse after that. Then Liam went totally limp in protest, slid off his chair and onto the floor, and just as everyone grew quiet for the reading of the Gospel, he began to make loud, angry growling noises.

Like any patient, gentle mother, I began to issue copious threats in a steady hiss while attempting to reach around my enormous belly and yank him back into his chair. I was a little overly enthusiastic with the yanking, and he protested the near loss of his arm with a loud yelp. Then he smacked me in the face (which he got verbally reprimanded for, but honestly I couldn’t blame the kid). After that I sat him firmly in my lap, alternately begging and threatening him in a whisper to be quiet while he kept up a steady whining at a low-level frequency.

By this time the homily had been going on for longer than the 5 minutes that I think is the appropriate length for a daily Mass. I was starting to realize that the combination of my girth, Lincoln kicking the crap out of me from the inside, Liam flailing in my lap, and the hideous meteorological behavior of the state of Florida was going to make me sweat my behind off no matter how high the air was cranked. I could feel sweat dripping down my back and I swear to you that I could actually feel my carefully curled hair begin to poof and frizz. I risked letting one hand off Liam to wipe the sweat off my face, and heard Charlotte whisper, “ew, Mommy, why are you all wet?”

I looked over at my middle child, who had been so quiet that I’d almost forgotten about her, and saw her standing in the middle of the aisle, picking her nose and eating her boogers. Judging from the half-disgusted, half-amused expressions on the faces of the high schoolers across from us, her nasal spelunking had been going on for some time. I actually had to choose between telling her to stop and keeping my lips firmly closed against my third-trimester gag reflex as she happily chowed down on a particularly large booger, but once I got it under control I whisper-yelled “Charlotte Elizabeth! Stop that! That is disGUSting!

Charlotte looked at me as if I had not been trying to beat that habit out of her for the past year. She looked at me as if it were Christmas Day and I had dressed up as the Grinch and stolen all her presents. She looked at me as if I had crushed her soul…and then she threw herself against her chair and began banging her head against it while wailing. Loudly.

I grabbed her arm, barely noticing when Liam used that opportunity to dive out of my lap and roll onto the floor, and frantically tried to get her to stop banging her head. I finally resorted to hissing, “If you don’t sit still and be quiet until Mass is over, I won’t let you watch Tangled when we get home.” She immediately stopped freaking out and sat resentfully in her chair, glaring balefully at me out of the corner of her eyes.

Meanwhile, Liam was literally rolling back and forth across the floor at my feet, and by that point I was too exhausted to care. I figured he was at least quiet, and if the people on either side of me didn’t feel sorry for me by now they could go ahead and be offended at my misbehaving offspring. Then I realized that I was so hot that I was probably either going to throw up or pass out. I stared up at the altar and mentally begged the priest to stop talking and begin the consecration. Miraculously, he stopped. Like, mid-sentence. I mean, it might not have actually been mid-sentence since I patently had not been listening, but it seemed like it to me. I breathed an audible sigh of relief as we stood for the prayers of the faithful.

Liam continued with his silent rolling and Charlotte with her baleful glaring until just before the sign of the peace. I was starting to think that the worst was over, and that if I could just remain upright for ten more minutes we’d be home free. Then Liam tried to run away, and I was forced to scoop him up and hold him still again as we all stood. Charlotte, who had been perfectly (if angrily) silent and still, suddenly grabbed the hem of my skirt and lifted it as far over her head as she could, just as everyone began looking around to give each other the sign of the peace.

I was, at that moment, profoundly grateful that I had the foresight to put on boy-short style underwear this morning. I was also profoundly regretting being so behind on laundry that it was my oldest, rattiest pair of boy-short style underwear. With my arms full of Liam, there wasn’t much I could do but frantically order Charlotte to put my skirt down, which she did, with a slightly Bad Seed-ish smile. I looked up, not only dripping sweat but now blushing furiously, only to catch the eyes of every high-schooler at the Academy. They had the grace to look away, but I definitely caught some suppressed grins, because let’s be honest, who wouldn‘t laugh at that?

After that, I thought things couldn’t get any worse. Then, while everyone was kneeling on the floor and I was sitting because I’m huge and not into excessive mortification, Charlotte grabbed my boob.

I have no idea why she did that. I’m going with the theory that she was fascinated by the lace pattern on the top of my dress (because she is, after all, an excessively girly-girl) and not that she’s a tiny weirdo, but I was so shocked that I let out a yelp and naturally, everyone turned to see what was happening. And then Charlotte kept doing it, apparently delighted with the string of threats issuing from my mouth and the increasingly red color my face was turning, until I grabbed both her hands and held her still. Liam took advantage of that moment to hit her in the head, of course, and she wailed, and thank God that it was finally time for us to receive communion at that exact moment, because I scooped the kids up, ran for Jesus, and then hightailed it the hell out of there.

This was a particularly difficult Mass, it’s true. But Mass in general has been like that since we went from one kid to two. I cannot remember the last time I heard a homily. I never remember what the readings are, I never manage to eke out any prayer other than, “Dear God, please make them stop,” and Mass has become far less a time of grace and more a time of sheer survival. There have been weeks, in the plural, when we don’t go to Mass at all because I simply can’t face another hour-and-a-half-long battle with the two smallest ones, while being kicked from the inside, sweating copiously, and fielding disapproving glares from other parents seated near us.

Mass with young children really is a trial. I see other mothers at Mass who are polished, who don’t drip sweat, whose children sit quietly or rest quietly in their arms, whose naughty three-year-olds don’t provide the resident teenagers with a detailed description of Theology of the Body, and I think, what am I doing wrong? Why can’t I get it together?

I don’t have an answer for that. I’m sure theories abound about discipline tactics and such, but I’ve found that Mass is a struggle for some parents across the board, regardless of their discipline tactics or the relative docility of their children. Liam’s a great kid. He’s super easy to deal with and laid back, but as soon as we cross the threshold of a Church, it’s like all his naughtiness comes spilling out. It’s frustrating and discouraging, and I almost always leave Mass feeling like a colossal parenting failure.

And yet. And yet, there is grace there. There’s always grace.

Plus, if I were one of those polished mothers with perfect children, what would I blog about?


photo attribution: By Yair Haklai (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons

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  • Joanne K McPortland

    “I scooped the kids up, ran for Jesus, and then hightailed it the hell out of there.” That is the best Spirituality for Parents workshop EVER, in one sentence. I don’t think you need to blog on confession, or even go to it as frequently as you think you do, because as a friend of mine said yesterday after trying to get his 6 kids through a Mass celebrated by his boss the archbishop without an Incident, “This is how every parent gets out of Purgatory, getting through Mass with kids.” Between boogers and boobs—and it wasn’t even a Sunday obligation!—you earned yourself a plenary indulgence.

  • Lydia

    My four year old (yep-not even a toddler) pulled my skirt WAY up outside the cathedral last Sunday. I didn’t have the foresight to wear boy shorts. I wore my cute undies instead.The ones with the sparkly writing. It may have caused scandal. This was after three crying jags about not getting to kneel on the kneeler, not being able to find the check to put in the basket (“BUT I WANNA GIVE TO THE POOOOOORRRR!!!!”) and why it’s not okay to roll around on the ground and repeatedly hit your head on the book holder thingies. Sometimes you have to remember that God, in His mercy and bizarre sense of humor, likes to do things to build up humility. For some reason with parents, this means lots of public bodily embarrassment.

  • Jennifer

    Peace to you, Calah. I’ve been there, done that, and got the T-shirt. I’m still there! Do not despair! It’s a difficult and long season, but it won’t last forever. You’re not a parenting failure by any means. You’re doing it better than most. God knows, and He understands. He just wants us to keep coming, keep being fed by Him, and keep doing our level best to live the very humbling vocation of motherhood. You’re a gem and I love your blog.

  • Beth Turner

    My husband watched the kids while I went to mass yesterday…by myself. It occurred to me that I hadn’t heard the homily in months, either! I am in the same boat and I keep thinking that if I go to daily mass at least once per week and try to stay as consistent as possible, we’ll get there. But I have to be honest and say that my resolve is weakening. The baby spends more and more time on the floor in the aisle, my three-year-old finds creative ways to challenge previously-established rules just to see how I’ll react, and I can’t imagine why his 1-year-old brother hasn’t learned not to smack his face on the pew in front of us yet. LE SIGH!

  • Also a mom

    I’m with you. Actually, I’m not with you, because I belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (often known as Mormon) and the last time I went to Mass was with my best friend in sixth grade. That said, little ones in church are trying, and you just have to keep trying! I remind myself that grace abounds, and they have to learn about Jesus (and being reverent) somewhere, somewhen. It’ll be my turn to listen quietly and be spiritually fulfilled later – in about ten years!

  • jen

    I used to get really pissy about kids misbehaving during worship because why oh why couldn’t their parents control them. Yeah… three years later, I’ve got an autistic kid who runs around the narthex opening and shutting the sanctuary doors. I’m blessed to be the pastor’s wife because it means the ushers now have something in their instructions that tells them to put a chair in the aisle at the back so I can catch the doors and keep them from slamming. I think it’s been 5 weeks since I’ve been to worship with my son because I’ve been sick or just too achy from the fibromyalgia to chase him.

    So… I’m totally with you on all this and I appreciate you being honest and blogging this because it shows me that I’m not alone.

  • GeekLady

    Wow, it’s like you’ve videoed my life every Sunday and HDO. Except the devilry is twice as mobile.
    GeekBaby was so bad last week that I thought, on the feast of the Assumption, while the Sign of Peace gets a lot of crap from a certain species of liturgists, it is a godsend for parents of littles to have a moment, right before you receive communion, to turn to their children and say “you’re an insane pile of wiggles and grossness and devilry and I forgive you.”

  • Kyra

    We have four children- a four year old and a two year old (both boys), and twin girls (six months). We have not made it Mass since Easter. To get to our church, we have to take two different buses (we don’t have a car), which takes forty minutes, or just over an hour round trip. We’ve made it to Confession, but not Mass. We don’t have enough hands to control the toddler, squirrely preschooler, and the two babies, none of whom will sit still.

    As autumn approaches and the kids get older I’m starting to think about ways of splitting it up so that maybe my husband can take the oldest kid on Sundays, and maybe, MAYBE, I could take the twins to Vigil Mass. We’ll see. I want to go back, but I don’t want the total meltdown-in-church plus the screaming forty minutes ride back on public transport. I just don’t.

  • Grace

    If I lived in Florida, I would give you a hug, chocolate, and a glass of wine, and not necessarily in that order!

    I only have one kid, but a few years ago I took all seven of my nieces and nephews to Mass. By myself. OMG. At one point, I rescued one from a broken neck in an attempt to dive over the pew by grabbing the back of his overall straps. Thank God the snaps held. Within seconds after Mass was over, one of them ended up in the adult baptismal fount.

    Memories, thankfully more distant every day!

  • Brigitte

    Dont take them. I think parents should avoid bringing children to mass until they are old enough to understand how to behave. I had four children very close in age and a husband who worked very very long ER shifts on weekends, so I had to work hard at getting to mass. Sometimes I had to take them, but between babysitters and trading mass times with my husband I avoided it as much as possible. And, no, I had no helpful family or friends living around me in those years. You can also start a nursery during mass. That works too, to an extent.