Church-going parents will recognize that I'm talking about Sunday mass with a toddler. There is nothing that strikes fear in the minds of parents more than this hour of the week.
And yet we keep going. Something about atonement for one's sins or Catholic guilt or whatever.
The guilt is what keeps me going back week after week despite the fact that I haven't heard a word of the mass for the past nine and a half years (I didn't even know about the changes to the mass until last week!).
After one hour - just 60 minutes - of time spent confined to a pew with my toddler, I am left a harried, frazzled, mussed-up, nervous, mortified, embarrassed wreck.
Why? Because he runs out of the pew and attempts to ascend the altar no less than a dozen times per mass. He screams in a tone approaching that only dogs can hear approximately 32 times. He wants up and wants down every 2.3 seconds. And he breaks at least one piece of jewelry I am wearing or snags my outfit with his kicking feet.
This is the 2-year-old who is a sweet angel the other 167 hours of the week. But like clockwork, the minute we bow and enter that pew, the devil horns come out.
Always a woman with a plan, I've come up with a 12-step plan to make life easier for those 60 minutes a week.
- Pack a drink and a snack. Not just any drink and snack, mind you - this has to be carefully considered. No crinkly bags to open, no bowls that can be dropped and spilled. Snacks must be placed in a plastic bag, or better yet, an environmentally friendly spill-proof snack container. And for the love of all that's holy, woman, bring the one sippy cup that doesn't leak!
- Sit among other families with children. This is kind of a no-brainer. That way, you won't get the sideways head turn, glance-over-the-shoulder, judgy look. No one knows where the chaos is coming from. If a kid screams in a crowded area where other kids are screaming, and no one can tell whose kid it is, does she really make noise? Plus little kids are entertained by each other. That buys you at least an extra 6 minutes of quiet time.
- Bring some quiet toys and books . . .because you know the snacks will be gone after the first two minutes. Markers and paper are probably a no-no (see: being "asked" to volunteer to clean the church pews), but a writing tablet would work. No books with paper pages that he can rip (like the missalette). Only sturdy board books, preferably with lift-the-flap pages to keep his hands busy. Matchbox cars make too much noise when being driven over the architecturally alluring stone floor. Choose cars with big, soft chunky wheels instead, like a monster truck. Your fellow worshipers will thank you.
- Plan to get up at least twice - once for a potty break and once to take money up at the children's collection time.
- Kick yourself for getting up at all. Now all she wants to do is GET OUT OF THE PEW! She had a taste of freedom, and she's not going back!
- Utilize the grandparents behind you. Encourage him to smile, shake hands, and play peek-a-boo. This will last until the next prayer.
- Continuously mouth "I'm sorry" to the bald man in front of you. Your toddler can't keep his hands to himself. His head is just so shiny and smooth.
- Pick her up and let her play with your jewelry. You put on the cheapest, most interesting necklace you have. Let her play with it. You can always go back and get another one from the clearance rack when it breaks and falls into your rack..
- Go stand with him in the back of the church. It's only a few minutes until communion. You can distract him by looking at the stained-glass windows. Ooo, pretty!
- Communion time - chug that wine! Does this one need an explanation? Only one more song until freedom!
- Busy yourself by collecting all the snacks, sippy cups, books, and toys that you brought and are now scattered all over your pew and the four surrounding ones.
- Run like hell after the final blessing. This way you will avoid all the pity comments from fellow worshippers such as, "Kid's a screamer, huh?" or "Rough morning?" and my personal favorite, "Enjoy it now because they grow so fast."