We have this routine, in church, the children and I. This last week was a good example, as MrsDarwin was cantoring the mass. This means that her only time to sit with the family is during the sermon. For the first half, she's up front, leading the opening hymn, the psalm, the gospel acclamation, and the sung parts of the ordinary. Then she sits with us during the sermon, and when we rise to say the creed she goes up to the choir loft to lead the rest of the singing from there.
The eight of us take up a long pew, but since we have to arrive early for MrsDarwin to sing, we can usually score one. The big three (ages 12 to 8) I can count on. They pay attention, follow along in the missalette and music issue, and can generally be relied upon to behave -- so long as no disagreement over precedence of seating order to the desperate desire to hush the younger children takes over.
The younger three... Well. They sit on both sides of and on top of me, and trade places routinely until I have to take some combination of them out.
Jack is six, and he does so mean to be good. He kneels down and bows his head devoutly and concentrates all of the unbounded energy of the six year old male on devotion for a good minute or two. Then he turns to the baby to make a face, reaches out to grab the baby's hand, is reminded, becomes devout again, then decides that he would really like to take his sister's place and make a stand for capturing the aisle seat. Were he alone and surrounded by grown ups in the pews before and behind, he would really do quite well. But there are just so many distractions.
Four-year-old Diana does not often buckle down for the thirty seconds of devout silence that Jack manages. She squirms, she looks around, she pokes at the baby, she considers whether she might get more attention if she were the baby, and then she resolves on going to the bathroom.
And the baby? William is almost thirteen months old, which means that he's reached that age where he's unlikely to fall asleep just because he's held in a parent's arms or given a pacifier. He likes to scramble about, and he likes to experiment with all the different sounds he can make with the wonderful mouth and tongue and lungs with which he was endowed by his creator. And he lacks any comprehension at all of what you mean by making those shushing noises at him. Should he make shushing noises? Well, it's not quite as fun as spitting or giving sudden loud squeaks, but he'll try it for a moment, before moving on to another trick like chewing the wrong side of the pacifier or throwing it at the old lady in the pew in front. He's almost never angry or sad in church, the problem is that he's not quietly happy, he's loudly happy. And so I tend to spend at least half of every mass standing in the back with him. The vestibule is somehow sobering for young William. He immediately quiets down and becomes contemplative. He remains quiet until the moment you try to bring him back to the pew, at which he sees all the nice people around him and begins to talk again. It's a great game. If you're thirteen months old and a cute fellow, you should try it too.
Given that William is the sixth child, none of this is at all new. The difference is that I'm finally getting used to it. Maybe it's that we have a fairly tolerant priest, or that by this point I've had far more people tell me after mass, "You have such wonderful children. And your wife's voice is so beautiful too." But I think that a lot of it is simply getting older and realizing there's really nothing I can do about it. I can be angry, or I can be calm, and the same things will happen.
Indeed, that was what was striking me this last Sunday, when I not only had to take William out for most of the mass but had to take miss four-year-old out as well. Unconscious of any disgrace at being removed, she skipped cheerfully down the aisle in front of me as we took the long walk back to the vestibule and then sat herself down on the heater and announced she was going to toast her bottom. William was at the top of his form, being silently submissive in the back and then boisterously chirruping when back in the pew, so we were in and out several times.
I couldn't tell from the backs in front of me whether this would be a week when they turned around after mass to smile and say what a wonderful family we had, or stalked out right after communion, shaking their heads and leaving a no mans land around us. And since there really was no telling, since it was truly out of my control: Why worry about it? The same cheerful-but-too-loud baby sounds can make one person angry and another smile indulgently, and if I have no control over which, in a sense it really doesn't matter. I continue to do my best to make sure that there are not distracting levels of noise in the church proper, whether that means taking the baby out or letting him silently scramble around my feet and see if he can find some contraband gum dried onto the bottom of the pew to pick at. And whether they choose to ignore him, be charmed, or be angry is really much more their own affair than mine.
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