For your enjoyment today, a simple “How To” guide for taking three kids under the age of 3 to Mass by yourself:
Fifteen minutes before you need to leave for church, start making pizza dough. I can’t explain why, but this is the only logical thing to do.
Also make a snack for the older kids to eat in the car, preferably something messy enough to really smudge up the interior of the car and also to adequately grease up their little fingers, like popcorn. This is also a great choice because it’s a salty snack which is perfect because, when you pull into the parking lot, you’ll realize that you’ve forgotten the sippy cups at home.
Do this accidentally on purpose, like every other awesome mom. Just leave ’em right there on the counter so they can taunt you upon your return.
Once you get to the parking lot of the church, the real decision making begins. How asleep is the baby? Is he asleep enough to transport in his car seat? If so, how will you transport the other two children, namely the 18 month old who cannot be trusted in parking lots…or really, just cannot be trusted at all. Or, is the baby awake enough to warrant nursing him in the car, hopefully eliminating the threat of baby meltdown in church? In which case, do you put him in the carrier and just wear him, thereby freeing your arms to grab the other two by their necks if necessary?
Now, I went with the baby wearing option, which was probably not the best decision and here’s why: you think the baby is your challenge here what with the screaming potential, the necessity of nursing, the explosive diapers. But, no. It’s the 18 month old. She is the real foe in this battle because she has no conscience. She has no attention span. She has no concern for decorum and she sure doesn’t have any patience. She will do whatever the hell she wants no matter what. Don’t underestimate this fact. Ever. And don’t be fooled by her cuteness or the adorableness of her preliminary antics. She’s just warming up. That kid is there for one reason and that is to take. you. down. Keep this in mind as you maneuver everyone into a pew and “settle in.”
Pew selection is crucial. Be in the back and on aisle closest to a door so you can make a discreet exit if needed. Now you should quietly chuckle to yourself at the thought of a “discreet exit.” Har, har, har.
Don’t be fooled by the false sense of security that is coming over you as the first hymn comes to a close. Be prepared for shenanigans. When the music stops, the 18 month old will probably shout, “Yaaaaay!!” which is the cutest thing of all time. However, this will prompt some other pint sized deviant at the front of the church to yell, “Yaaaaay!!” right back which is all part of her plan.
This, in turn, is just the cue your three year old has been waiting for! She will take a deep breath in an attempt to continue this obnoxious game of “Yaaaaaay!!” ping-pong but you can quickly silence her by throwing your phone at her. She’ll be moderately entertained while the jealousy of the 18 month old rises. Now attempt to silence the nagging voice in your head that always said you’d never resort to iPhone apps to shut your kids up. You’ll be dragged from this reverie by the shrill cry of the middle child, “Miiiine!” Try to reniforce sharing with both and then just give them both bananas. Nothing says, “church appropriate snack” like bananas. Obvs.
Now this is where the combination of popcorn, bananas, and forgetting the sippy cups becomes really great because A.) it gives the kids ammo for their whining arsenal that is really going to start revving up about the time the homily starts, and B.) it gives you the treat of taking them to the water fountain in the foyer of the church.
The water fountain is at an incredibly inconvenient height for anybody, much less someone with a baby strapped to their chest, who is attempting to lift twenty-five pounds of 18 month old wiggly dead weight. This is about the time you should start kicking yourself for deciding to take everyone to Mass by yourself the day after you went running for the first time in about two and a half years. Your body may bounce back from birth, but it will never forgive you for this.
Please note that this water fountain also has the world’s most sensitive handle, which either provides too little water or splurts a geyser all over the floor. Your best bet is just to douse their faces with water and hope for the best. If you’re lucky, you’ll soak their hair and shirts and they can just suck the water out of those.
Hedge your bets and just hang out in the foyer until the Eucharist because…well, there’s just no point.
Sneak back in just in time to receive communion and start putting coats back on the very moment you return to the pew. Make your escape as soon as humanly possible and remind yourself that you always promised you’d never be one of those people who leave right after the Eucharist. You’re gonna eat a lot of crow today. It’ll be alright.
Soldier on back out to the parking lot making sure that you stop for the three year old to stomp leaves while you wear the baby and hold the 18 month old who is a runner. Feel your arms and legs melt into jelly as she squirms and the older child demands one more jump in the leaf pile. Your body hates you right now.
The baby should start to whine at this point. That’s good. Just the added stress you should be looking for at this point.
It’ll take one more push of energy and sanity to get everyone buckled into the car, but trust me, you’ve got this! Just throw the little squids in the general direction of their seats and attack the buckles with the ferocity that only comes from desperation and exhaustion.
Maneuver the car out of the parking lot and go home with the knowledge that the walls of a church are holy. Children and their exasperated mothers absorb God’s love through osmosis; it oozes from the pews, from the floors, from the stained glass windows. It is taken into the body through the Eucharist, yes, but also through the holy water anointed on foreheads, the air breathed, the tap water splashed on faces and floors. It may not seem possible, but holiness transcends distraction, frustration, chaos.
You may not be able to remember a word of the sermon. You’ll never know what songs were sung and your bulletin is covered in banana peels. That’s fine. Know that sometimes the holiness is in the effort. Sometimes just being there is enough.
Remember that God has children, too, children who are just as rebellious and ill-behaved as your own, most even more-so. You are one of them and, just as nothing will ever stop you from loving your own children, nothing can possibly touch the love the Father has for you, especially a trying trip to Mass. God honors the effort and He knows you’ll be back. Maybe next time with reinforcements. It’ll get better and until you get it down, there’s always holiness, always peace.