Thursday, January 7, 2016

It's More Than Just How You Respond

Last Friday was New Years day, but, more importantly, it was the solemnity celebrating Mary, Mother of God.  I always love celebrating Marian feast days, and this day was no different.  My eldest daughters were both scheduled to altar serve the morning Mass so the Mass we were attending was already chosen for us.  Katie, still had a fever from a recurring ear and sinus infection so she stayed home with Bryan while I took Anthony and the older girls.  I assumed I'd have a few of my normal struggles with Anthony climbing in, on and under the pews and making some noise, but I figured if I can wrangle him by myself at daily Mass most weekdays that I'd be just fine with him for what would be an hour Mass.

Anthony is not shy at Mass.  This kid will happily babble, sing, wave hello, and even participate at Mass when he can.  But, he's still a toddler, so sometimes he cries and sometimes he just makes small little noises that many people seem to enjoy.  He has quite the following of people from daily Mass who simply adore him and all the chaos that he brings with him.  But despite him having so many fans, I still make sure I'm prepared with a sippy cup, bag of cheerios, a couple of pacifiers, and a Thomas train whenever I go to Mass to keep him occupied and as quiet and still as possible.  I'm very conscience of the noises he makes and I do everything I can to make sure he's not a major disruption.  Some days are good and people hardly realize he's there and other days are not so good and I hope that the noise sitting next to or climbing all over me isn't as loud as I think it is.  Sometimes, those are the days when Anthony gets called out during a homily or at the end of Mass.  Those shout outs used to totally mortify me, but when they happen at what feels like 50% of the Masses we attend, I've gotten used to it, but there are still times (this past Christmas Eve comes to mind) where I want to pretend I have no idea who Father is talking about, but that's hard to do when you're holding said noisy baby.

We belong to an awesome parish where most people who approach me about my kids and their antics have very nice and encouraging things to say.  And some of the ones who do come up to comment on the noise do it in such a lighthearted way that I'm never upset about it.  I am aware that there are a few people at daily Mass who are less than thrilled about some of Anthony's noises, but aside from a glance or a sharp look when he's particularly vocal, they've never felt the need to approach me about it.

This past Friday, however, was different.  I always sit in the same pew for Sunday Mass and holy days of obligation.  So when we got to the church, the girls went to the sacristy to get ready to altar serve and Anthony and I went and sat in our usual spot.  The spot that had the lady my kids call Grumpy Cat Lady, because she looks like Grumpy Cat from those memes, sitting in the pew right in front of where we sit.  Several months ago Bryan pointed out to me that this particular woman has a habit of moving from her pew to another pew across the church anytime Anthony is behind her.  The first several times she did it, I never noticed.  I would see her in the pew, kneel down to pray and when I was finished the pew would either be empty or someone different would be sitting there.  I always assumed that she was there from a prior Mass and had just left after she finished praying.  Then there was the day when I finished praying and Bryan, looking annoyed, leaned over and told me that she moved again and told the woman next to her that Anthony was a screamer.  At that particular Mass, Anthony didn't make a single sound.  She turned and looked at us when we slipped into the pew and was visibly annoyed, so I wondered if she was going to move away from us.  While I prayed before Mass, Anthony walked along the kneeler and the backs of my legs and quietly hummed what sounded like the Alleluia.  It was a sweet happy little sound that was fairly quiet for him.  He wedged himself between me and the back of the pew ahead of me while I was still kneeling and that's when I heard a growling "Shhhh!" which snapped me out of praying and caused me to look up.  It was followed by a grumbling "Be quiet!" right in Anthony's face.   My first thought was that she wasn't serious since he wasn't loud and he wasn't crying.  She turned back, obviously annoyed and in a huff.  Within a minute she had decided to pick up and move across the church and up a couple of pews.

Her actions just left me washed in emotions.  I was hurt that she felt the need to so angrily snap at the baby.  And then I started to feel very annoyed that she even thought that it was ok to do it which made me start to wonder how many people she's done this to before.   Were we the only ones or have other families had her snap at their children or been made to feel unwelcome by her practice of getting up and moving away from them in a very obvious manner.  Then I started to think about how I would have felt and reacted if this had happened when Madeline or Ellie were his age.  I likely would have left the church right away horribly embarrassed and would have thought twice about going back for a long time if at all.  I know it would have made me cry.

I know that not everyone has to like the sounds of children at Mass, but how you respond to those things that annoy or distract you at Mass affects those around you.  Based on people coming up to me after the Mass and making overly kind comments about Anthony, I suspect her growling at the baby and subsequent relocation was noticed by those around me.  I don't have the answer for the right way to approach the parent of a noisy child, because I also don't know how to tell the gossiping old ladies who chatter before and sometimes during Mass to zip it because they're bothering me.  I also don't know how to tell the people who come to Mass doused in a bottle of smelly perfume that makes me feel sick to my stomach to lay off the scent.  And, I also have no idea how to tell the people who either say the responses too fast, too slow or incorrectly to get with the program and say them right and on time.  Do you know why I don't know the answers to those situations?  It's because there are no tactful ways to tell someone that you find their presence at Holy Mass annoying.  Responding rudely to someone at Mass may just be the thing that sends them out the door never to return.  If you make it clear to someone that their presence at Mass is annoying and unwelcome they make take your hint and not come back.  Would you want that on your conscience?  I know I wouldn't.

Now I don't know why this woman is so grouchy about kids.  Maybe she never had any or she just doesn't like children at all.  Maybe seeing or hearing little kids reminds her that she has grandchildren that she never sees.  A lot of people come up and tell me about their grandchildren that they never see or that parents never go to Mass and how they wish they would take them.  So maybe she has a personal issue and Anthony strikes a nerve that hits a little too close to home.  But we all have crosses to bear and lashing out at someone because their presence makes your cross a bit more difficult to carry in that moment isn't going to make anything better.  I know for me personally there are times when I am sharply reminded of one of my crosses, but I can't take it out on someone else just because it upsets me.  In those moments, I bring it to Our Lord and let him know why I'm upset, but I don't move away from what's upsetting me because I believe that it was placed before me for the benefit of helping me to grow in holiness.

So ultimately what I'm trying to say here is this:  If you have a problem with the presence of a noisy baby, before confronting the parent or the baby about it stop and take a few moments to bring it to Our Lord.  Tell Him that the annoying child that He created is getting on your last nerve.  Tell Him why you find that child of God so repugnant and then take a few moments to see what He has to say.  Then take a few moments and ask yourself if you might just be overreacting.  Maybe you're justified in saying something, maybe you're not.  Perhaps, this moment is a test.  You could perhaps see it as a moment to bear a wrong patiently.  Chances are the baby isn't doing it to annoy you, he's just doing it because he's little and he's testing out his God-given free will probably much to his parents' dismay.  It's even possible that that mother sitting all by herself with an energetic toddler who treats the church like it's his second home is incredibly self conscious about every single sound her child is making, even the ones you don't hear.  Mass with little ones can be very exhausting.  It's an hour packed with trying to contain a little one who wants to run, climb, crawl, yell, sing and explore a very curious building filled with many new faces.  It's enough to leave you feeling like you need a nap afterwards.  While lashing out at the parent or baby might make you feel vindicated or triumphant, I can assure you that it will be remembered by the parent long past when you've forgotten what you've said.
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