We’ve made it a habit in the past few years to go to both Christmas Midnight Mass and Easter Vigil with the kids. I was dubious the first time, but Melanie was confident and the kids did seem to love it so. And it has generally worked fine, especially since we had Melanie’s sister Theresa living with us to help. But by this past Christmas, Theresa had moved back to Texas and Melanie was 9 months pregnant and feeling under the weather and Ben, in particular, seemed uninterested in waking at 11pm to go out into the cold, so it was just me and Isabella and Sophia and it went fine.
So this Holy Week, I went to Holy Thursday with Isabella, Sophia, and Ben (where only Isabella went last year) and that went fine too. Then Good Friday with everybody and that was fine as well, which may account for our hubris. Because Theresa came to visit for Easter and so we said let’s take 5 children six years old and under to a Mass that begins at their bedtime and will likely go for two-plus hours in both darkness and bright light. Piece of cake, right?
We had an early dinner of roast lamb with “loins girt and staff in hand” because we knew we had to get to the church early to sit up front. Everything goes better when they’re up front and can see all the action. Well, we didn’t calculate that the catechumens and their families would have the first few rows reserved to themselves. Thus, we ended up sitting about six rows back. That was our first setback.
We were also a little more crowded than usual and so all of the kids couldn’t stretch out in the pew when they got sleepy and so Ben ended up laying under the pew with a kneeler as a pillow. Right there is a good argument for keeping kneelers in churches.
We had a tense moment or two as the church was plunged into darkness as I tried to calm Anthony, who was a little afraid that I was trying to sneak a bedtime onto him. But as the Paschal Candle came forward and the tapers were lit, their eyes were all aglow. Of course, the three oldest ones wanted to have tapers of their own and with an adult per child, we let them hold little flames in their hands.
Our only excuse for such poor judgment has to be sleep deprivation. Oh, they didn’t light anything on fire. But that’s only because each adult had an iron grip on each little fist waving the flames close to hair, clothes, bench, neighboring parishioners, etc. And then we nearly had a revolt when we had to extinguish the candles and return to darkness.
Back in the dark, both Ben and Anthony wanted to climb into Melanie’s lap.
At the same time.
While poor sleeping Lucia was already there.
Causing her to squawk in the silent church as the first reading from Genesis, about the creation of the world, was being read. But a quick pop on to nurse by Melanie in the dark solved that while Theresa and I each grabbed a boy and tried to settle them. Meanwhile, Sophia had settled down to sleep.
Then the lights came on and as he delivered his homily, our pastor Fr. Currie decided to use Lucia as part of the message, talking about how Lucia crying out in the darkness is like mankind crying out while still under the penalty of sin and death.
Which was nice, except his clear intent was to come over and take Lucia from Melanie and walk around with her. To which Melanie gave an emphatic No, since every eye in the now brightly lit church was on her and there was no way to disengage the nursing baby without someone in the crowd getting an eyeful of Melanie, even for a split second.
And so Father continued his homily without babe in arms and just made a reference to how Christ feeds us when we cry out like Melanie feeds Lucia to satisfy her crying out. Whew but still a little mortifying for her.
Everything went well from there, with children conking out as we made our laborious (but no less glorious) way through the litany of the saints, two baptisms and confirmations, until finally as we began the Liturgy of the Eucharist the Problem occurred.
First, Sophia woke up on the bench and that’s never a good thing. Like Melanie, Sophia does not like to be woken up and then be unable to get back to sleep. So she started whining. And whining is always the prelude to crying. Which leads to angry crying. You don’t want angry crying. You wouldn’t like Sophia when she’s angry crying.
Meanwhile, Anthony who’d been sleeping in my arms like a baby– a lead-lined squirming baby– started to wake as well.
And I knew.
I knew we were headed for a full-on katy-bar-the-door meltdown by one, if not two, children. Swift action had to be taken, so I handed Anthony off to Theresa and told her to take him out to the entrance of the church. He’s been there, he’s used to it and it usually calms him. I picked up Sophia–did I mention I was in the middle of the pew?– and her coat and tried to “gracefully” exit the pew over Melanie, Lucia, and a still-sleeping Benedict.
And by gracefully, I mean bumbling, stumbling with a writhing 5-year-old in a giant poufy dress as I knock discarded tapers, missalettes, Mass prompt cards, and Lord knows what else to the ground. And as I got to the end of the pew –the Hosanna was half over by now and it would soon grow quiet again–my suit coat button got caught in Sophia’s hair. Like twisted around a strand in her braid. And so the poor child really began to wail again.
Extricating my button from her hair with a bit of effort I rushed for the closest exit, which happened to be just off the sanctuary up front where everyone could see me carrying the poor girl like a Secret Service agent hustling the president under cover. And as we get to the little entranceway I realize that I have forgotten Sophia’s beloved blanket, the only thing that consoles her, the one thing she reaches for when she’s upset by anything.
I’m left with a dilemma: Do I take her back into the church, wailing all the while, for the blanket? Or do I take her without it to the car to wait for Mass to end all while the poor child screams inconsolably? So I did the only logical thing that came to mind.
I abandoned her in the cold, dark vestibule while I went back into the church for the blanket.
I can state with certitude that the vestibule is indeed not soundproof.
After some ridiculous hand gestures at Melanie holding two children while helpful folk all around tried to press all manner of things into my hands, except the blanket, I finally make it back to the disoriented, cold, alone, sleepy, angry girl in the vestibule.
Once we get to the car, I strap her in her seat–with difficulty since she sits in the back and usually has to buckle herself because it’s inaccessible to adults. The near-catatonic girl is doing nothing of the sort so I’m left hanging out the back hatch of the minivan in my nice suit trying to restrain a screaming child. I’m lucky I’m not in jail.
After a few minutes, Sophia begins to calm and she starts making coherent demands along the lines of “Bring me back to mommy, you bad, bad daddy.” Okay, I may be reading into her actual phrase which was just the two words “Want! Mommy!”
By this time, I could tell Communion was in progress because people were streaming into the parking lot. Yes, even at the Easter Vigil people couldn’t be bothered to stay for a few minutes for the final blessing.
Meanwhile, inside the church, poor Melanie was alone in the pew with Lucia and Ben in her lap, (Isabella was in the pew ahead of us with her cousins and my brother who had come to our church for Mass) and thus she couldn’t get up to go to Communion, never mind manuever so as to let the people coming back from Communion–including two elderly, crippled nuns with canes– back into the pew, making them go around in the pew behind her. Happily, after my brother came back from Communion, he took Lucia from Melanie, who then carried sleeping Ben to walk around the back of the church and get in line herself.
Eventually, I got Sophia calmed enough in the car with the promise that we would go back inside to mommy if she stopped screeching like a banshee. And so we slowly trekked our way back inside, this time by the proper entrance and we arrived at our former pew by the time of the final blessing.
I could feel every eye burning the back of my head and could hear the unspoken: “What kind of idiot takes five children out at this time of night to a 2–1/2 hour Mass? Of course, they’re going to melt down.” I wanted to protest preemptively: “But they usually do so well!” Yet, I knew they would be right.
Nevertheless, at the end of Mass many, many people – who are either delusional or extremely charitable– came up to us and assured us that the kids were so good and did so well considering the situation, etc. I have to conclude that we were living off the credit earned at so many other Masses where they are usually well-behaved.
Getting them in the car and then into bed at home was no picnic either, but that at least was in private and somewhat normal, so it doesn’t bear repeating.
In any case, it’s Easter and the wonder and beauty of the day outweighs the mortifying embarassment of the meltdowns and so we enjoy the Feast of the Resurrection of Christ, whose saving work is accomplished whatever our own failings or own mistakes that prevent us from having a “perfect” holiday, recognizing that perfection exists in Christ and all that is required of us is just to be present and open.
Happy Easter to all. Christus resurrexit!
- resurrection: Wikimedia Commons | Public domain