When people stop me after Mass to tell me how well-behaved they thought my children were, I usually smile and say “thank you.”
I have got to stop taking credit for any of it.
I recently attended a Sunday-morning Mass without my husband and without my two oldest boys. It was just me, two big girls, two middle kids, and two babies. I don’t care if Raphael is three years old, he most definitely counts as a baby.
Who else but a baby would tap dance on the kneelers until he fell and hit his head on the pew in front of us? Who else but a baby would snatch the misallette from his sister’s hands, crumple the pages with his enthusiastic page-turning, and then slam the book shut — WHAM! — when I dared to tell him no? Who else but a baby would announce his unquenchable thirst (“I so FIRSTY!”) and then rifle through my bag in search of a non-existent sippy cup while spilling some of the bag’s more embarrassing contents onto the pew?
I probably could have maintained a sense of humor if it weren’t for the other baby that squirmed in my arms. He noted the toddler carnival going on in the pew and wanted in.
After enduring all I could take of this (I think we were on the Opening Prayer), I decided to cut my losses. I perched Little Baby on my hip, grabbed Big Baby by the arm, abandoned the older kids in the pew, and made my way, sweating, to the back of the church. There, I prevented the two of them from licking the tiles, I stopped them from pinching their fingers in the doors, and I thwarted their efforts at pounding their fists against the stained glass. So much for attending Mass.
It was there, standing before a large stained glass image of Mary, that I realized how spoiled I am. Raphael usually sits next to his big brother Eamon — the shining star around which his toddler world revolves — during Mass. Raphael would do anything for Eamon, including behave himself in the pew. Most Sundays, it’s Eamon the old ladies should be complimenting after Mass.
It was also there, standing before the stained-glass image of Mary, that my little Daniel stretched pudgy arms toward his heavenly mother and said, “Ooooo.”
His tiny mouth formed a perfect circle and he leaned from my arms toward the window.
“Mary,” I told him.
Still staring, he pulled back a bit and his eyes grew wider still.
“Fire!” he said, holding his palms outward toward the glass and then pulling them back suddenly, the way he does sometimes when standing in front of our wood-burning stove. “It’s hot!”
“Fire” and “hot” are Daniel’s words for anything he approaches with caution and respect. I’ve heard him use these words for knives, electrical outlets, and even a fearsome photo of a sharp-toothed tiger in his favorite picture book.
“Mary,” I told him again. “Ma-wy,” he whispered back.
That Sunday morning, I might have discovered that I no longer possess the necessary skills to properly parent my three-year-old. I might have grown weary of toddler wrestling before the second reading. But my little son met Mary. He saw power and beauty in her glowing image and used his small body and sweet little mouth to speak her name and give her glory.
And thus he reminded me to pray. For the grace and wisdom to teach all my children reverence and awe for holy persons and things. For the patience and strength to be an example of steadfast faith to them. And for forgiveness for the times when I have failed. Amen.