The Toddler in the Pew

Outside our church this evening; love the lights!
I have made a lot of decisions as a parent that may be a little different from others and even tend to fall in that controversial category; we co-slept, I exclusively breast fed, went to work, hired the world's best nanny and we let our kid use an iPad to watch PBS shows. However, the one decision that is sometimes the hardest to keep doing is that we bring our toddler to church. Every single week.

At first it was easy, she was a baby and slept through most masses snuggled in her carrier against us but then she got mobile...and loud...and insane. Yet here we are, 26 months later and still putting ourselves through the hectic hour of mass with a toddler rampaging through the pews like Godzilla in the Vatican. But I honestl would not have it any other way. First of all, Matty gets even more credit, since I am a lector and get to read and leave him to deal with the chaos, which I can see (and hear) from the altar. As I'm in front of the whole parish, reading, I can hear my kiddo screeching about trains and freedom from the chains of Dada along with everyone else. Some people don't even know she's mine! It's hilarious, heartbreaking and a tiny bit guilt inducing but we keep at it, and here's why:

1. This is our life. We are devout Catholics and attend mass every weekend, no matter if we are home or on vacation, and we want Madeleine to have it as part of her life routine as well, now and into her adult life. 
2. Our parish is amazing. Being young, Catholic and in attendance for mass every weekend is pretty rare, and I feel like the older folks and other parishioners totally appreciate that and are so, so kind to us, even as our child appears to be in need of an exorcism during an especially wonderful homily they can barely hear. I've never had the terrible experience of being shamed or made to feel like I shouldn't be there with Madeleine as so many other church goers and bloggers that I follow have talked about. Our priest is especially wonderful in this regard and always goes out of his way to talk to Madeleine and tell her how good she was during mass even if she screamed through his entire gospel reading. It's so encouraging when he tells me that he knows we are making a sacrifice to be in mass each weekend and how great it is that we bring her, even when it's obvious that she was a complete lunatic for an hour. 
3. It's having an effect on her. Maddie has started singing along to the 'alleluia', she says 'amen' and she loves giving the sign of peace. I'm not trying to punish her by bringing her, I want her to truly enjoy it as much as we do, and I see glimpses of that as she becomes more aware of what's going on and starts to participate in her own little way. Mass is an hour each week for me to meditate and enjoy my faith and I hope that she feels that way as time goes on too. I won't ever push religion on her but I hope that I can lead by example and encourage her to continue on the path we have started for her.

I was motivated to write this because we made a risky decision and went to the 5pm mass tonight, when we generally attend the 10:30am. Maddie had not had a nap and may have had a cupcake right before and was in pretty crazy form. We were early so I was letting her run around the church and get her wiggles out before mass started, which included saying hi to everyone waiting to pray the rosary before mass. She walked up to one woman who I've seen a handful of times and the woman gave her a colorful child's rosary. Maddie immediately put it on as a necklace and called it her "rosy". We thanked her and Maddie went along her way to go say hi to everyone else. I tried to have her give it back after mass but the woman told us that she was out today and saw it and decided to buy it although she had no recipient in mind, but when she saw Maddie and I looking at the nativity and talking about baby Jesus, she knew why she had bought it and was thrilled to give it to Maddie. Such a sweet gesture, and one that made my heart swell because of my connection to the rosary.  
When Matty and I attended St. Thomas in JP and had our awesome group of young Catholics that we often did things with, we had a seminarian friend of a member teach us how to pray the rosary. It was the first time I had ever done so and I was really into it; the meditative part of it and the prayers to Mary. As a woman I feel a tremendous connection to Mary, which has only multiplied since becoming a mother, and that day made me feel so close to her. The very next day, we found out we were pregnant with Madeleine. That's something, isn't it?

So to all you church going folk who don't give the evil eye to folks like us, trying to lead by example and foster a sense of normalcy into our own church going life, we thank you. Madeleine will make an excellent nun to serve you all someday, I'm sure.
All that running around made for one tired baby girl tonight!

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