When someone complains to Abouna about me (even indirectly), I understand more and more why many Tasonis have a “shut up and shut in” policy.
I wanted to tell you about my Sunday. I was going to describe the agony of wrestling two children (one of whom is a vocal, squirmy big baby) to Divine Liturgy. I was going to tell you in great detail, so that I could remember 30 years from now how it felt to be a young mother in Liturgy, to curb any future whining about how annoyingly noisy the kids at church can be and how frustrated I am that their mothers don’t shut them up.
But then I realized you probably don’t care. Don’t care how little sleep I got. Don’t need to hear again how I spend an hour of the service in my own personal “crying room” (Who do you think is crying in that room, really?). How my dress was covered with spit-up by the end of service. How several women in church helped me by taking him for a bit. How I couldn’t tell who was friend or foe and felt myself getting increasingly paranoid because someone complained about the sounds the babies make.
We have three big babies in church. Mine is the only boy and he’s the loudest and squirmiest. He wants to sing with the deacons. He’s just not sure of the words, not knowing any yet. I show up an hour late and spend an hour in the crying room of a three-hour service, leaving one hour where he coos and gurgles and squeals along with the rest of us. It apparently irritates a few people enough that they have complained to his father.
What’s your excuse, Tasoni? I can hear the inner dialogue going. You are keeping the adults from praying. You are distracting them.
But he’s a baby, I respond. I want him to hear the hymns of the church. I want him to learn to be quiet in church, and he can’t do that if he’s never there.
There’s plenty of time for that. Stay in the crying room the whole service. It’s easier that way.
But when I’m in the crying room, I’m on my phone. I can’t help it. I can’t pretend to pay attention when I can barely hear the prayers or the sermon. I need to be able to see the altar. If I’m praying quietly alone in the dark, I could do that at home. Why show up at all.
Why show up at all. That’s really the heart of it. Is it worth it? Is it worth it to have my hair pulled, dress sticky, back and arms aching to stand and pray in the middle of a congregation that includes some people who look at me with contempt as the person unable to keep a small human being of independent mind from being completely silent for three hours (or even one hour).
Sometimes I am depressed and defeated. Ready to throw in the towel and quit trying altogether. Ready to stream permanently from home.
And sometimes I am furious. When I heard there were complaints, I gave Abouna my full lecture on how we mothers are literally guaranteeing the next generation by suffering openly for Christ and for the sake of the children of the church. When you take someone who overcomes about eighty obstacles to come to church and then tell them they are not doing enough and are bothering others, you can’t then be surprised if they don’t ever come back. I am certainly reconsidering Sunday Liturgy.
I mentioned before that I know a lot of women who skipped Liturgy altogether while their children were young (first two years). The problem is that you won’t ever know when to come back. Going to Liturgy is a habit. If you break the habit for two years, excuses will be convenient for the next ten. Every age comes with its problems.
At this age, my son is vocal (but stays in one place). People will complain. Soon he’ll be able to roam the church, but be quiet. People will complain. After that he’ll be a pre-deacon, standing with the men, but he won’t know how to do it respectfully. People will complain. Then he’ll be a young deacon, sneaking off to hang out in the bathroom when he gets bored. People will complain. Then he’ll be a teen deacon, making jokes with his friends while standing at the altar. People will complain.
The problem is that “people” who know nothing about children think that children are under the power of their parents. Children are human beings with their own mind, their own opinions, personalities, ticks, and habits. Yes, parents guide their upbringing, but a child will make noise. A child will disobey. A child will act up. A child will throw a tantrum.
If you’ve ever tried to stop a tantrum, you know that there are times when it’s impossible. Literally, impossible.
So keep complaining, people, about how much we aren’t doing for our kids. How we aren’t raising them the way you like. But we’ll keep bringing them to church anyway. “To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).
(I won’t even mention how an attempt to go to Bible Study went last night. But for now, I won’t shut up, and I won’t be shut in.)