Wrestling Alligators--Trying to Have a Spiritual Life of Your Own While Instilling Your Faith Traditions in Your Own Child
Last night I visited with a friend in the hospital and got to put on my priest hat for a bit...or collar as it were. In the chatting part of the visit he inquired about our little guy and how we liked our new congregation. I joked about the challenges of church with a toddler and he looked at me and said, "but he's a good boy!" Yes, I agreed, but he is almost two!
My duckling boy has in the past few months become rather sensitive to a variety of things that he formally enjoyed. Case in point, loud noises.
At church there are parts of the service in which the entire congregation prays aloud, together. On occasion there is applause. Both of these things now cause my son to start whinging (a combination of whining and cringing) and attempting to crawl into our shirts.
So, a couple of weeks ago I suggested he cover his ears when loud things bother him. So, yup, that is my son--the one with his hands glued to his ears and his elbows akimbo--looking anxious during the recitation of the "Our Father..."
Now, I'm not entirely sure what is running through his head in these moments, but I think it may be some variation of the following "They are too loud! Make them stop! Why did the music stop? Why won't we go play with the trains instead? What the h-e-double hockey sticks is going on? Hey, can I have more goldfish crackers? Would you make them stop already? Loud, loud, loud! Accckkkk!"
At which point everyone says "Amen" we all sit down and I breathe a sigh of relief that the crisis has been averted for the moment. At which point the boy child starts kicking the book racks in the pew. When I move his feet to the side he instantly turns and starts trying to climb up the back of the pew. My wife fishes in the diaper bag for a snack and we hand him a few pretzels. He shoves them into his mouth and signs for more...but, now, he wants the bag. Oh, and he also likes to quack, like a duck.
Did I mention we sit in the front pew so that he can see the "action" at the altar and be more engaged with the service?
Did I mention that up until 19 months he insisted on nursing during the service so I'm pretty sure I've flashed the entire altar party?
Did I also mention that he is only in the service for 15 minutes because he spends the first 40 minutes in the nursery?
Did I mention that we do this EVERY SINGLE BLESSED WEEK?
Yes, the service we attend is great. They know and like children and are more than welcoming in every way. But, we are mothers of a toddler. Right now it sometimes feels like we are just trying to get out of church alive.
So much for my own spirituality! That said, I'm a priest, I feel very strongly about my family attending church. But, it has also been my "job" to go--and is my calling as well--so there often hasn't been a "let's skip it" option for us. Because, there are definitely weeks we've gone when I would have skipped church because it was just too hard (spit up and diaper blow outs figures prominently in those weeks--as do teething, two year molars are rough).
I once joked in a sermon that I was impressed by the folks who take their kids to church but aren't themselves paid to go...truth is, I wasn't joking. And, as I anticipate spending more time at the altar and in the pulpit this summer (yup, I'm a substitute preacher, feel free to groan!) I realize that I'm rather relieved. As a supply priest I don't bring my child along--the congregation doesn't expect it and many places simply aren't equipped to host small children (and even if they do, my sensitive boy would not do well dropped off in an unfamiliar nursery with unfamiliar people).
Which, of course, means that I don't have to take my toddler to church! Woo-hoooooo! And, you mean I'll get paid! Yippee-Skippee, even better!
Okay, I'll quiet down my glee to state clearly--taking my toddler to church sucks but, it is worth it. (Of course, I'm not the parent who will be alligator wrestling while I lead congregations in prayer in the greater metro!)
It's worth it because it creates a network for him of folks beyond us. It sets the stage for the future. I believe it will give him the grounding he needs to sustain him as he grows. It will help him to think beyond himself and to the need for justice, mercy and love in the world. It also gives us a reason to put him in a bow tie (for Easter!).
There are innumerable reasons why we drag ourselves and our child to church each week and these are just a few. So, I want to know, if you have ever done church with kids, what made you persist? What was soooo important that you endured the rounds of pew wrestling and cracker crunching and book dropping? What made it easier? What made it harder? Tell me about it...