Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Daily Mass with a Toddler

Right after I realized that I wanted to go to daily Mass every week, it was about time to transition into summer break. There were still some days that my toddler would be in day care while I worked a little bit here and there, but there was a 2 week period when she would not be going to day care at all. I told myself that I would still go to daily Mass every day to at least try, regardless of how easy or hard it would be.

With my older girls (currently 9 and 12) kindergarten seemed to be when they turned a corner and it was easier for them to behave in a way that was not stressful for me at Mass. Once our toddler got past the infant stage and was no longer quiet enough at Mass, my husband was often staying home with her, knowing that one of us was most likely going to be out in the hall with her rather than inside the church anyway. However, that ended up being detrimental to our family as the older girls would sometimes resist going to Mass (such as: If Papi's not going, why do we have to go?). Of course, I also knew that while it was so nice for met to go with the big girls and be able to focus on Mass that it was not okay that my husband was back home missing Mass completely.

Instead, we started to go to church as a family but take our toddler down to babysitting offered during Mass. However, every attempt to have her in Mass on days when daycare was not available were not that successful. I remembered some recent attempts in which the stress of trying to keep her in the pew and quiet made me sweaty. In an examination of conscience, with a laugh I knew for sure that one implication to my life for "You shall not covet your neighbor's goods" was: You shall not covet your neighbor's calm and quiet children in Mass. Needless to say I was not able to focus and fully participate in Mass and was far from the calming sense of peace that usually comes with Mass.

I thought about the minimum of 10 week days without day care with dread. I longed to be able to participate in daily Mass but knew it would be more challenging with my toddler in tow. In my mind there were two thresholds that would constitute celebrations - 1) being able to stay through the homily and 2) receiving the Eucharist. I prayed for perseverance for the 10 days and any other summer days when there wasn't a reason why I had her in day care.

Nonetheless, I also considered the positive aspects. The shorter daily Mass time might be an opportunity to build her stamina and for her to gain a better understanding of Mass expectations. I knew that my stress level would impact her, so I tried to go in with as calm as possible of mindset in order to try to set the tone.

To my surprise, by the second day, I had a sense of "we can do this." It wasn't always easy per se, but I felt completely different, namely calm. Somewhere along the way, I realized that it was no longer a "have to" but a "want to." One day when I went on my own, I realized that I missed having her there - not the feeling I expected to have at. all.

In less than 2 weeks we will go back to our regular work/daycare routine, where I was anticipating I would breathe a great big huge sigh of relief when it comes to daily Mass. Instead, I am thinking through how I might reverse our daily routine some days to go to Mass together first and then to drop her off before heading to work. There will be some days when I go on my own, including when I am scheduled to fill in as a reader or Eucharistic Minister, but I will no longer view a daily Mass with Camila with stress and worry.

Some benefits that I found along the way/influences in the shift were:
  • I sit toward the back with plenty of space to feel like if she makes some noise it is not as distracting (though I know she can be heard at least some of the time). 
  • The first days I brought a bag with books or small family scrapbooks. Then I realized that step was unnecessary - better for both of us.
  • Even on the morning towards the end of the first week when I thought it was definitely going to be a lost cause and wondered why I was even attempting to go because she seemed like she was crankier than ever at home when getting her out of bed, I realized upon arriving to Mass that it was one of our best days yet. If I just get there, God will help me with the rest.
  • Many of the mornings I have needed to get her out of bed to head to church. I opted to quickly check her diaper and then take her in her pajamas. Some mornings, she snuggles into me almost the whole Mass. Those are my favorite moments - staring into her eyes, holding her, and listening to Mass (and thinking about what a blessing she is). 
  • The priests and other parishioners have made positive comments about her and ask about where she is when she is not there.
  • There are other moms who take their kids, some with multiple young kids. Seeing others provides moral support to persevere when it is challenging or to feel like it is okay to have a bit of noise from time to time from kids. Previously, I had a stereotypical impression that daily Mass would mainly be older retired people who would not appreciate the noise of a toddler. To the contrary, as mentioned above, many go out of their way to greet her and to ensure that I feel welcome with her.
  • Maybe most importantly, daily Mass is a perfect opportunity for her to start to become aware of Catholic traditions. I started to think about ways to help her tune into different aspects of Mass so that she will start to recognize the rhythms that she can come to expect. I know that these will be anchor experiences that she will better understand the significance of over time. She loves dipping her hands in the holy water, she sings along with Alleluia, she shakes her hand during the Eucharistic prayer along with the sound of the acolyte ringing the bells, she looks forward to shaking hands during the sign of peace, once she imitated bowing in front of the Blood of Christ, and she kneels down to pray with her hands folded. Earlier this week I was trying to tell her that she could not leave the pew, but then when I finally gave her some leeway, she stepped out of the pew and genuflected. I realized that the reason she wanted to get out so badly was because she had walked into the pew before me but then saw me genuflect and wanted to do the same. All of this matters. All of this is laying a foundation. 
Oh, and in case your wondering how frequently we have made it to the thresholds of the homily and the Eucharist, 100% of the time. We haven't had to completely leave a single time (and we are now on week 5 - with just a few daycare days thrown in there). We have moved over to the confessional or the entry way occasionally, but for the most part, we have been in the main church. I truly think this is because of my conscientious attention to knowing that she will take note of my stress level. The calmer I am, the calmer she seems to be. 

By bringing her to Mass, I know that I am aligning my actions with God's will for my vocation as a wife and mother. Furthermore, the moments together are a special time for quiet, calm, and bonding. Though I couldn't recognize it at the onset, I am grateful for this string of days all together and my decision to go anyway, rather than putting my commitment to daily Mass on hold until I got back to my regular work schedule.

How would God like to surprise you in your daily life? What would you like to do related to your spiritual life or faith formation that you are worried about being able to do based on different obstacles that you foresee? 

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