This was supposed to be mass with my kids by myself.
Instead, I was sitting on a bench outside church trying to feed The Astronaut as she fought me off. The speaker system hadn’t been turned on out there, so I couldn’t hear anything going on during mass. The Hobbit was either (a) interfering with the feeding process or (b) climbing onto the bench and hopping off like Gabby Douglas. When the inevitable toddler injury occurred, both girls were crying and I was at the point of despair. (For the uninitiated, toddler injuries are like soccer injuries, both generally resolvable by kisses/”magic spray“. Oh, and they’re utterly fake.)
Eventually things calmed down. I remembered my mantra; The Hobbit got her leg kissed; and The Astronaut finally ate breakfast. But my existential crisis wouldn’t pass; I couldn’t understand the value in expending so much effort to get to church if I wasn’t going to participate in any of the liturgy. I couldn’t help but think: what’s the point.
When we returned to our pew, I noticed that a woman in her early thirties had taken up residence next to our circus while we were outside. With The Astronaut’s car seat on display, I had to assume the woman knew what she was getting into (in tort law it’s called “coming to the nuisance”). As a satiated Astronaut fell asleep, The Hobbit resumed her usual mass activities: singing during silence and handing out the frayed tri-fold cards containing the revised liturgical language. For once I didn’t worry if it disturbed anyone else; what’s the point when I’m not planning on coming back next week.
But during the Liturgy of the Eucharist The Hobbit started taking some new liberties – namely reaching for the holy water just beyond her grasp and executing failed escape attempts. To my surprise, the woman to our right kindly steered The Hobbit back to the circus tent more than once. Later, when only Daddy could serve as a wrangler, the woman graciously watched The Astronaut for me.
For a few fleeting moments while my wife was at work and I had the kids by myself I didn’t feel so alone.
At a Catholic church I am always impressed by two aspects of humanity: (a) the capacity for love (particularly toward unruly children) and (b) the creativity for parking. (Seriously, the only place on earth where people create parking spots out of thin air as well as the parking lot of your average Catholic church is South Philly. And who lives there? Catholics.) Being self-conscious about having my children making a ruckus at mass made me forget that the people around me likely didn’t care that my daughter sings during transubstantiation – they’re just happy kids are at mass.
This woman, a complete stranger helping a disheveled dad trying to keep it together at 8:00 am, reminded me that the point of all this effort is to make sure my two little girls grow up in the faith my wife and I grew up in. Other aspects of parenthood don’t necessarily go according to plan, but that’s not the point. As a family you get through it, and at church we’re all family.
“All the paths of the Lord are lovingkindness and truth to those who keep His covenant,” Ps. 25:10, even the paths that seem pointless at the time.