We like to attend the early morning Mass at our little church. Because it isn’t the most popular Mass for families with littles (that would be the 10:30, in spades), we get lots of compliments from the elderly folk who congregate at that hour and who are amused by our children even if the behavior isn’t stellar. There will always be someone coming over to us and telling us how nice it is to see the children and begging us to come back to that Mass again. We have no problem with that–we like having our Sunday obligation fulfilled at an early hour and the rest of the day to spend afterward in our various pursuits (and not having to keep the children immaculately tidy…or at least reasonably so).
I guess over the past two years I have come to take the smiling acceptance of our parish family for granted. After we moved we tried this parish out just for a change, and found in it everything we missed at our old parish. You felt at home just driving up the hill to the little church. We had been at our old parish for five years, and I can’t say that I ever felt totally at home there. Here you had a sense of what it meant to be part of a parish family; at the old parish, which of course has about 700 more members, you were just one of the crowd.
And boy did we stand out there this morning!
Firstly, we woke late. But we didn’t want to miss the 8am Mass again because we wanted time to do things today. So the race began! We hurried everyone into the van, after spending about ten minutes to find Princess’ matching shoe (because why oh WHY doesn’t the shoe maven of the family keep her shoes in the place where they are supposed to be?!), and misreading a clock, found as we backed out of the driveway that it was 7:53am and we had a twenty minute drive ahead of us still. What were we to do? Send everyone back in and pray that they stay looking decent for two and a half hours? I looked up the Mass times at our old parish on my phone, and squinting at the tiny mobile bulletin I noticed that the first Mass listed said 8:15. Bingo! Well, back to the old parish.
We made it there by 8:13. We climbed up the steps between parking lot levels and as we entered the narthex an older gentleman who had been following our crew up the stairs stopped me and asked: “Ma’am, I hope you don’t mind me asking, but how do you have six kids so close in age?”
My mind was awhirl. Was he asking me how? Biological texts flew through my head, Well, sir, the average gestation of the human female is only nine months, followed by a brief period of natural infertility followed by– But goodness, man, are you really asking me how we managed to do this?!?!
I realized in retrospect he was probably just wondering if any were twins or adopted or maybe gosh, kids of ours from other marriages?–or tagalongs we’d had over for the weekend? Rascal and Dino are very close in age and have identical hair color, and have often been mistaken for twins. Princess and Sunshine are the same height and wear the same size clothes, so they could be mistaken for friends at a glance. But at the time I was really taken aback by the question–it’s not the usual one we get (that’s “how do you handle them?”), and I heard myself weakly saying: “Well, they’re really about a year and a half apart…” and that seemed to satisfy him.
But now I was confused again, because as we entered the church the priest and deacon were seated. The congregation was seated. And then the choir began to sing the Alleluia. We were late! How could we be late for an 8:15 Mass at 8:15?!
Then five years of belonging to this parish came back to hit me. The Mass times in the bulletin do not begin with Sunday, but with Saturday, and it is Saturday morning’s Mass that is 8:15. Sunday is 8am. Oh no…
We found a pew and filed in, trying to be inconspicuous. However, it’s hard to be inconspicuous. This parish, unlike our little church, has a cryroom. You get the impression that if your child squeaks, he or she needs to be in the cryroom. That doesn’t always work, however, because I’ve generally found cryrooms to be populated by toddlers running amok OR by people who have come in late and don’t want to go into the main body of the church but will nevertheless shoot you withering glances if your child cries in the cryroom. So I felt (probably needlessly) that the eyes of everyone in the ten pews behind us were on us and our crew as the Mass progressed. I was hardly attentive to the liturgy as most of my time was spent mentally praying for exemplary behavior on the children’s part. Or in attempts to judge whether that sound merited a trip to the narthex where I could pace with the toddler in question (cryroom having been ruled out for reasons above). And then in the Communion line the attempts to go single-file got a little muddled and four of the kids bunched up in front for their blessing from the priest; a minor thing but of course I saw it as a judgment on my ability to keep my children in order.
Yes, I needed to calm down and stop worrying about what everyone else may or may not have been thinking. Yes, I needed to focus on the fact that hey, we were at Mass! Christ was there in the Eucharist regardless of what anyone might or might not have been thinking about my family.
Then, after Mass, a lady calls out to us as she passed our pew–while we were bundling six kids into winter coats–”What a handful! I was counting you as you went by…”
And as we were leaving the church, the man behind us joked: “So is that a gaggle or a goggle of kids?”
I was a little sarcastic by this time, what with going through Mass feeling every eye supposedly on us and now the third comment of the morning; two more than usual. “Oh, it’s a herd, depending on their moods,” I said quickly. He smiled, “Oh, they’re fine. They’re fine.” And then I felt bad for feeling sarcastic. It really isn’t the way to show we truly enjoy and love our crazy chaotic life.
Next Sunday everyone is going to be up and dressed by 7am.
In other news. Yesterday, on Groundhog Day, we watched the Weather Channel and saw the clip about Punxsuatawny Phil and how he didn’t see his shadow. Rascal watched it with us and then asked for an explanation to try to absorb what he had just heard. Finally, with furrowed brow, he pointed to the groundhog and spluttered: “But that’s silly. That guy can’t control the weather.”