Wife and I sat on either side of the pew; living bookends with our children between us. By natural necessity, the baby hungrily clung to Wife. #8, on the other hand, was more like a ping-pong ball. Bouncing between Wife and I until he became too energetic for Wife to handle him while #9 filled her arms. He was banished to my side. I attempted to keep a hold of #8, who wanted nothing more than to make his presence known to the entire church. Squirming, squiggling, and squawking, I tried to keep him still and quiet, which felt like balancing an egg on my head while I tried to catch the hen.
The art of paying attention in Mass with all the children is like balancing a bolder on a toothpick. It’s not impossible, however it does seem to take a minor miracle.
I sat in the pew with one or two children to my right, while Wife sat with the same on her left, and the rest were firmly placed between us. All in arms reach of either Wife or myself. So we went through Mass as child-bookends, and a nearly constant string of correcting and scolding fills our Sunday celebration. I believe it has been about five years since Wife and I have sat next to each other, with the children for an entire service.
#8 has gotten to the age when he gets passed from Wife, to myself, to #1, and back again with #2 pitch hitting, all in an attempt to quiet him down. While at the same time as the baby is passed over, #7 is sent in the opposite direction to which ever parent does not have the baby. #7 is still a handful, and needs mom or dad’s direction during the entire Mass, he just won’t let up.
The rest of the crew should be old enough to stand still… they should be. #5 and #6 were starting to grapple with each other again and had to be stopped. Snap my fingers at #3 to stop daydreaming and pay attention. There was Wife shooshing #4 who was making squeaking noises at #8, and then gesturing for #2 to keep her eye forward. Then I had to separate the boys because their wrestling match started up again. And there were #1 and #2 holding quiet negotiations over who would be able to take the fussy baby outside.
I really wish I could say that sort of thing only happened in one Sunday out of ten… I really do. The fact is, as much as I wish my children were perfect little angels at church, they seem more to be weapons of Mass distraction.
So, for our anniversary, Wife and I went to daily Mass all by ourselves. I was going to able to listen to the Gospel Readings and pay perfect attention to Father’s homily. But as Mass progressed, I instead found myself looking at the stained glass windows and glancing around to see who might be in church on a Friday night.
Well, maybe the children aren’t why I’m distracted in Mass, they’re just my excuse.
It is Holy Saturday night and there is so much preparation for a joyful celebration of Easter. In an attempt to sleep in as long as possible I lay out my six children’s church outfits for the 7:30 Mass in the morning… Yes, the 7:30. Because we live about a half hour from the rest of civilization, we cannot leave later than 6:45 for that Mass. If I plan it right, I can try to sleep in until 6am and make it to Mass on time. But tonight, in addition to the usual plan of action for the morning, I have six Easter baskets to fill with treats and hide for our morning scavenger hunt. I wonder if the kids will be able to contain themselves until after Mass… or rather if my Beloved will be able to contain himself until after Mass. There is a high probability that the hunt for their treat filled baskets will happen before any of us are ready to go in the morning.
Even though we have a later start to our sleep tonight, I will most likely be awakened by either an excited child or an excited husband for a bleary eyed search for the Easter baskets. But the joys of such a high Feast Day never seem to outweigh the need for sleep. So I bid you good night and a Happy Holy Saturday.
With the onset of Holy Week we of course start with Palm Sunday. And we all know what that means, palm leafs are handed out. In other words, the children are given toys.
Hardly any time needs to pass before the children uncover the many uses of palm branches, none of which were intended by the fathers of the Church.
They usually start with the multiplier, in which the children find they can tear their palm down the seam three or four times before it becomes too small to manage, or until they are noticed by a parent. Which ever comes first.
If they choose not to multiply their palm leaf, they can always turn it into a weapon. It makes a great sword, whip, or ear tickler. They also find that a multiplied palm leaf also makes a fantastic cat-o’-nine-tails.
There are more respectful ways to play with a palm branch, like folding it into the shape of a cross. A well indulged pastime for myself. However, #6 figured out a way to shake most of the cross out, leaving a knot at the end of his palm leaf transforming it into a mace.
The mace was so effective that he was removed from his sisters and placed snugly next to his mother. He then attempted a different diversion. He dropped his palm leaf behind the pew and set about making such a fuss about it that Wife lifted him over to get it. A new game was born. There went the palm branch again, but he was unaware that Wife has been through five other children before him. The palm leaf stayed where it was.
In the end, all the palm branches had to be taken away on account of the war that was constantly erupting within the confounds of our pew. I have absolutely no idea what the homily was about.
Here’s a funny fact. When someone asked me the other day how I “do it” (I think she meant survived) with so many children, I simply answered, “We just do.”
Now when the same question was posed to a preschool teacher, a good friend of Wife, she answered, “They do it because God is the center of their family.”
When I sat back and looked at it I thought, Ya, she’s right. Wife and I (mostly Wife) try very hard to teach our children their faith. Most of the children can recite all the common prayers. Granted, they have a lot of slurred words and a whole lot of W’s in the place of R’s. We also do our utmost to be good examples, taking the children to Mass (despite the inconvenience of the early morning hour; and the company of the children) and they can watch their parents receive the Sacraments regularly.
We have just now entered a new phase of our life. The children are now coming of age and growing up.
This Saturday, #1 received the Sacrament of Confession for the first time. I watched her wait in line, nervous and yet focused. She took it very seriously. I could actually see her examine her conscience as she sat in silent, penitential prayer. She was not just going through the motions; she really understood what she was doing.
I hope to see all the children develop that way: from repeating prayers, to an understanding of prayer, and into a real relationship with God.
Preparing six small children for church is not nearly as bad as one might think. It takes a great deal of work and planning, do not mistake it for a walk in the park. Like any enterprise the preparation is just as important as the actual venture. Forethought is the key. Clothes must be laid out, shoes must be found, children must be washed; and above it all, the very gear that makes this complex machine of orderly preparation work is Wife.
She holds the unordinary sense to know which child must be bathed first and which ones need to wait until the very last-minute. She can also understand on which days all four girls can be tossed into the tub at once. This always results in a stew of little filthy girls shampooing and soaping in water either too hot or too cold depending on whom is sitting closest to the faucets.
Church clothes are always laid out the night before, or an inventory of the closet is taken. The latter is normally used for the older girls. Wife picks out what she will accept and makes herself a mental note. The next day girls are sent to pick out their outfits and return for approval. If the clothes are not one of the outfits previously approved then they are sent back again and again until Wife finds the results acceptable.
Amazingly, this strategy usually works! The girls truly believe that they have in fact chosen their own outfits. Unfortunately, with age come problems. #1, our very own seven year-old, has discovered a horrible thing, her own fashion sense. The really horrific part is when her style clashes with that of her mother’s. At those times I think the child feels a little like Custer at the Little Bighorn, simply without a prayer.
Wife has the children clean, dressed, and ready to load into the van in time for us all to make the 7:30 a.m.Mass. Now do not think that I am not a help in this process. I do in fact lend a hand when needed. I put on jackets and even oversee the kids look for their shoes; believe me I have no idea where to look for them. I comb the boys’ hair. Why, last Sunday I actually helped one of the girls with her hair. #3 came up to me complaining that her bangs where in her eyes.
I said, “Let me show you a secret.” And I brushed her bangs to the side.
The five year-old scrunched up her little nose and made a sour face. She then said in a whisper with narrowed eyes, “Daddy! Secrets are bad.”