8.03.2013

To My Older Cry Roommates

You don’t know me.  Well, maybe you do, but I know you don’t know much about me… maybe you don’t want to.  I’m not exactly your favorite person here.  I know this.  I hear the sighs when I sit down next to you in the cry room.  The look on your face that says “why me?  Why did the lady with the baby have to sit next to ME?” when I take my seat and try to smush my diaper bag under the pew.  When I am trying desperately to wrangle my little wild child, baby feet kicking and arms flailing all over the place as I try to sneak out to the lobby to calm her down during the most sacred part of the mass, that look of impatience you get says it all.

I am the young mom with the wildly excited little girl clapping and giggling (and sometimes screaming and crying) walking laps around the lobby of the church.  My husband is the adoring young dad who holds her at the church door so she can peek in and watch the priest.  We sit with our daughter in the “cry room”, although usually one of us is chasing her around while the other one listens to the mass.  We trade every few minutes as if passing a baton in a relay.

Our daughter is one year old.  She started walking just a few weeks ago and is quite proud of herself.  She likes to practice (ahem, show off) her walking skills all.the.time.  She especially loves walking laps around the vestibule of the church while mommy or daddy follows patiently behind.  Her smile can light up a room and her laugh can brighten my darkest moments, yours too if you listen.  She doesn’t have many words yet, but she will talk your ear off, if you listen.  She loves to babble and laugh, sometimes she cries and shrieks- hey, she IS only a year old after all.  She sometimes tries hard to play quietly (and mommy and daddy always try hard to keep her quiet) but when she grows tired of being quiet and finds her voice, whether it be happy babble or hungry/tired cries, I feel your icy glares and want to crawl under my chair.  Instead I sheepishly smile, mumble an apology and run her out to the lobby as quickly as possible so as not to disturb you further while you enjoy the mass.  Ironic, being that we seat ourselves in the cry room.  

She is curious and points at everything.  I want to show her the world and teach her everything I know, so I point and explain everything that I can.  She soaks it all in and responds with happy baby babble.  I point at the stained glass windows and tell her the stories that they depict.  I show her how beautiful the Virgin Mary statue is in the vestibule and teach her how to pray the Hail Mary.  My husband blesses her with holy water and helps her make the sign of the cross.  We pray together.

We could wait to bring her to mass until she is older and understands better how and when to sit silently and when to participate… but why?  This little walking, babbling, screeching, shrieking bundle of joy IS the future of our faith.  She is always excited to be here.  Truth be told, more excited than I am most days.  She belongs here, in this church, in this cry room, in this pew.  She NEEDS to be here and not only be here, but be accepted here.

I can remember going to mass as a child… the cry room was full of other kids.  We would trade Cheerios for Goldfish crackers while our parents tried to keep us entertained and simultaneously fulfill their weekly obligation.  There was a sort of camaraderie in the cry room back then.  Parents exchanged empathetic smiles when one of the kids would have a meltdown.  A mom in the next pew would whip out an emergency stash of crayons and all was right through the next reading.  It was almost a family within the church family.  It was a great place to be.  Lately, and perhaps this is just me… it seems that the cry room isn’t exactly as kid-friendly (or parent-friendly!) as it used to be.  As a matter of fact, I find it really disheartening that the one room in the whole church that we should feel more than comfortable... leaves me feeling so uncomfortable that I end up spending the majority of the mass in the lobby or even outside.

Nevertheless, we go every week.  We sit in the cry room amongst the elderly church goers who haven't changed a diaper since before I was born, and instead of praying for our loved ones, we pray that our little girl will be on her best behavior for the next hour so we can avoid your condescending looks and lip smacks.  We smile through the icy stares and apologize some more.  We walk laps and laps around the lobby, we hold her and rock her, shush her and sing to her while you look on and wonder why she is here, why we are here.

I realize that you come to mass and likely sit in the same seat you have occupied for a dozen or more years.  You seek a peaceful and meaningful service and quiet fellowship with your friends.  I do not want to disturb your service, but please realize that the cry room is the one room in this whole big church where my daughter should be able to... well... cry... without me wanting to cry from embarrassment too.  We belong here.  We need to be here.

It's no secret that our wonderful church, as a whole, is in desperate need of young families, like us, to carry on our traditions.  My husband and I talk often about how sad it is that churches are closing and the numbers of faithful followers are on a slow decline.  This is why!!!  Our church needs to be a warm embrace, a judgement-free zone, especially for young families and children.  They must be welcome here, so welcome that they are excited to come to mass.

My one year old is oblivious to your annoyed demeanor now, but soon enough she won't be.  And soon enough she will feel embarrassed too.  How excited will she be to come to mass then?  She needs to be welcome here.  She is the future of our faith.

So, please.  If you choose to sit in the cry room with us, be patient.  Be patient with her, with us.  We are a young family trying our best to raise our daughter in the Catholic faith.  After all, she (this little wobbly clapping, singing, crying, shrieking, wiggling sippy cup slurping holy terror) is our future, the future of our faith.

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”  Matthew 19:14