Throughout my life I have worked with kids a lot. I started babysitting when I was twelve. I have about fifty cousins and at least half of them are younger than me. All throughout high school and college I’ve tutored, mentored, camp counseled, and run programs for kids. At the Catholic Worker I was basically a second mom to at least 8 kids at any one time. I helped moms load newborns into the car to ride home from the hospital and had to keep the peace when the kids would fight at dinnertime. Not that after all this experience I thought I was an expert on kids and discipline but I definitely thought I had a pretty good handle on what it meant to be a parent.
I could not have been more wrong.
I have quickly come to realize that kids are going to cry, scream, shout, kick, and fuss at exactly the wrong time regardless of how good your parenting is. Parents should still try to lovingly teach their children discipline, but even the most well-behaved kid will sometimes just totally breakdown in public.
Despite our best efforts to teach Olivia how to act respectfully, she is totally in control when we are out of the house. Nothing we do affects her mood or behavior. If she’s in a bad mood then it is impossible to have her in a public place.
Of course this is most apparent when we go to Mass on Sunday. We do everything we can to ensure a calm Mass time. We let her take her morning nap, we feed her right before we leave, we bring a bottle in case, and we bring a book she can flip through.
I’ve always been super-critical of parents and their kids at Mass. I hate it when parents feed their kids in Mass. When they munch on cheerios and goldfish. I hate it when parents bring a gazillion toys for kids to play with. I hate it when kids have crayons or markers and are coloring away during the liturgy of the Eucharist. I’ve always thought this was inappropriate and setting a bad precedent for the kids. They should be sitting quietly and attentively all through the Mass.
Olivia is now one year old. While she was once content to be held all through Mass, she no longer wants to be such a passive spectator. She wants to chew on the pew. She wants to flip through the hymnal. She wants to talk to the people around us. She wants to crawl all over the floor. Pretty much after 3 months, Mass has been an uphill battle.
Last Sunday I had the realization that we have become those parents I used to slyly look at out of the corner of my eye and judge for not having children that act like adults. We got to Mass early. Good for us. Bad for Olivia. Her patience was already worn thin by the time the opening song started. Then another baby sat in the pew behind us. Shoot. We couldn’t do anything to keep her from yelling, “Hey!” at the baby over and over. By the time we hit the first reading, her Baby Einstein book was out. That kept her quiet all of 3 seconds. So out came the sippy cup. This held until the Gospel where she promptly threw the cup and book and started squirming so much she almost fell out of my arms. So the carrots came out. She took one, chewed it, then spit it out. Awesome. Then the crackers came out. This kept us going until the Eucharistic prayer. So we unleashed our final and ultimate tactic. Her bottle. And this is how we got through one hour of Mass.
Now you might be asking, why didn’t you just go to the cry room? Because the cry room is the worst idea in the world. Sure, we do it when we have no choice but I HATE the cry room. It just takes one parent to treat the room like a glorified playpen. You know, the kind of parent that has an eight year old literally bouncing off the walls and does not flinch to try and settle them down. It only takes this one kid to get all the other ones doing the exact same thing and all the parents are left powerless in the midst of this the chaos. I could learn to ignore this but it gets Olivia so riled up that we cannot control her and all she wants to do is play with kids that are three times her age that would trample her in a second.
Point is, we really try to avoid the cry room at all costs.
This whole time I had chalked up food, drink, and toys for little ones in Mass as bad parenting, it was really just a method of survival. We are now the parents that get the stares of judgment. The stares that say, “Will you please just control your child?” Truth is, we can’t. I cannot get Olivia to act like an adult no matter how much I will it.
Parenting requires humility. One thing I wasn’t ready for. I was prepared for the no sleep, limited social life, messy house but not the need for humility that is thrust upon us daily. It sucks to be the parent of that kid that is throwing a tantrum in the middle of Mass or that kid that just knocked a plate onto the floor of the restaurant. But it is inevitable and you just have to suck up your ego and keep moving. I can’t get mad at Olivia for these things. She doesn’t understand. If she were older, ok, maybe I could sit her down and reason with her a bit more but we are far from being able to do that.
So here’s my apology to all those parents that I have given dirty looks or judged for having kids do something embarrassing or inappropriate in public. I’m definitely getting my comeuppance.