Growing up, my family of 5 sat together unless my dad or brother needed to usher. I figured that’s how church worked–unless you had extended family in church, you sat with your parents. Consequently, I always imagined that all my children would sit with me in the pew on Sunday mornings.
Well, you know what they say about the best laid plans. . .
I did solo wrangle Babykins and Sweet Pea for over a year. But as Sweet Pea gets older, she gets wigglier and louder. I often have to take her to the back of the church during the sermon. And while Babykins generally sits quietly in the pew, taking her to the back with Sweet Pea and me meant she started crawling on the floor and talking loudly.
I asked our church grandma if I could leave Babykins with her when I needed to take Sweet Pea to the back. After a few weeks of this method, Babykins was begging to sit with Granny the entire service.
I was hesitant–after all, children should sit with their parents–but Babykins had also started to feed off of Sweet Pea’s antics and would try to cling to me as I wrestled with her sister. Truth be told, Babykins behaves better when separated from her sister. Now she peacefully sits with Granny. When I glance back at her, she’s either observing what is happening around her or eating her snack.
As for Sweet Pea, she’s much more of a handful in church than her sister was. Most of this is because she’s so much louder than Babykins! I generally let her be as loud as she wants during most of the service (as long as she’s not screaming for screaming’s sake) and try to keep her quieter during the readings, sermon, and prayer of the church.
I’m still making it through church without a designated “busy bag”, but I do pack her a snack, a couple of crayons, a doll, and a book for Sunday mornings. Sometimes I can keep her quieter during the sermon by whispering the text of the book I’ve brought (I usually choose a book by Joni Walker or a Kloria Publishing book). Often I need to take her to the back during the last few minutes of the sermon because she gets too wiggly to contain in the pew. Sundays are exhausting now, but my hope is that if I keep on patiently teaching her how to “do” church, she’ll be as good as her sister in a couple of years.
Yesterday I took both girls to a midday service for Good Friday at another church in our circuit. Generally I try not to get too worked up about circus act that comes with bringing two little children to church. However, Good Friday services are so somber and quiet that the girls’ inevitable antics seem especially jarring even in the most child-friendly churches. Why? Because while people are reflecting on Jesus’ suffering and death, things like this are going down in our pew:
- 4 month old Sweet Pea grinning like a fool in the silent sanctuary.
- 2.5 year old Babykins slamming her water bottle against the pew.
- Sweet Pea needing to eat during the sermon.
- Me realizing that Babykins is pooping right before communion (I left her in the pew to finish her business while I went up).
- Babykins loudly annoucing, “All done pooping!” as the rest of the congregation silently leave the sanctuary.
Needless to say, the feeling of piety was pretty low after that. At least the children keep me humble.
I’m going to regret writing this but. . .
Church with Babykins and Sweet Pea has been going much better than I anticipated.
Please note that I described the service as “going much better”, not that it is “easy”.
When I was pregnant with Sweet Pea, I would sometimes leave the church service and think, “How am I going to do this with 2?!” I would think about trying to catch an escaping Babykins while holding an infant or trying to slip out of the service to nurse Sweet Pea with a toddler in tow. It seemed impossible, especially since we sit up front.
Thankfully, Babykins is currently at a cooperative stage for church attendance. She likes hearing the music and flipping through the hymnal. She also likes being able to see the congregation, hence the reason we sit up front. And somehow I’ve managed to convince her that apple slices are an acceptable snack during the service and she’ll happily munch on those.
Likewise, Sweet Pea is proving to be an easier baby than Babykins was. She isn’t nearly as prone to crying fits as her sister, nor does she have the same intense need for movement when I wear her (I can get by with rocking her in the pew instead of marching around the back of the church). She is also a better nurser and I’m able to feed her in the pew. Sometimes she even sleeps in her car seat! About the only time I’ve left the service for Sweet Pea is when she needed a diaper change.
Of course, I’m still far from consciously getting anything from the service. I sing the liturgy mostly from memory as I awkwardly hold a hymnal open for Babykins. I half hear the readings while trying to get Sweet Pea ready to nurse. I less-than-piously stand for the prayers while keeping one eye open on Babykins lest one of her mischievous hankerings take hold of her. And there are moments throughout the service that I have one child strapped to my front and another child balanced on my hip. It’s exhausting, but manageable.
However, I’m not naive enough to think that pew wrangling will stay at this manageable level. I know handling both girls will probably get harder at some point (like when there’s 2 mobile kids in the pew. Oh my!). I’ll get frustrated and wonder what’s the point of going to church. Then it will get easier, then harder, then easier, and then someday the girls will be old enough to not need my constant attention during the service. And then I’ll be by myself again and remember with laughing fondness of this time in my life–at least that’s what the church grandmas seem to do.
Now, getting to church on time–well, that’s a different matter entirely. :p
My Sunday morning at church usually goes like this: Babykins and I arrive at church and set up our pew. I feel optimistic about whatever new pew strategy I’ve created during the week. Snacks, no snacks, a little toy, no toy, crayons, pencils, books, and so on–I’ve tried all these things. Whatever this week’s plan is makes me feel like I can do this pew-wrangling gig.
Then the next sixty minutes proceed and whatever plan I’ve implemented completely falls apart. Snacks are tossed on the floor, crayons are chucked two pews behind us, hymnals are walked on, and Babykins is yelling because I won’t let her stand by Daddy. By the closing hymn I’ve called it quits and tell myself that I should just expect everything to go wrong in the pew on Sunday.
But time heals many wounds–or at least allows memory to fade–so by next Sunday I have a new plan and a new sense of optimism.
And yes, this coming Sunday will go well, I can just feel it.