I was cruising through Facebook recently, ignoring the Candy Crush requests and the Hobby Lobby haters and all of my friends’ vaguebooking — those status updates that are intentionally vague to prompt people to ask what’s going on — when I ran across a great meme. It said “Whoever wrote the song ‘Easy Like Sunday Morning’ didn’t take their kids to church on a regular basis.”
I said “Amen!” and then gave my computer an understanding high-five.
I’m not a math genius, but according to a quick calculation, my two sons have combined to go to Mass roughly 900 times. Grant, the 9-year-old, is hovering in the lower 600s between weekend Masses and going twice a week during the school year. Jacob, the 5-year-old, is closing in on 300, give or take.
So you would think, on experience alone, they would be perfectly behaved little angels. You would be wrong.
Let’s start with Jacob. Despite the fact that we spend a significant amount of time looking for his shoes on Sunday mornings, he’s relatively easy to get up, dressed and out the door. We usually get to Mass early enough that we can preemptively direct him to the bathroom and drinking fountain. No, his problem begins the second we hit the kneelers. Apparently the water he drank upon exiting the john has taken all of 90 seconds to work its way through him. So he asks to go again. The bathroom-drink combination seems to be a vicious cycle. He generally gets one mid-Mass potty break before we start blocking the end of the pew like an offensive lineman. We hip-check him if he goes high and block him with our feet if he goes low.
But, sadly, this isn’t the biggest problem we have with Jacob. Asking if he can go to the bathroom is only a very small fraction of the talking he does during Mass. Sometimes there are honest questions or comments about what’s going on. Those can range from “Why is he wearing purple? That’s a girl color” to “Is this song even in English?” My personal favorite came a few weeks ago after the cantor sang the responsorial psalm. She had a very, uh, distinctive voice, and Jacob noticed. He was sitting on my lap and turned to me. “Dad,” he said in a loud whisper, “do you think she takes yodeling lessons?”
But at least he’s paying attention. Grant, despite his more than 600 Masses and recent first Communion, is only concerned with one part: “The Mass has ended, go in peace.”
I’ve gone over his sensory issues, but on Sundays, when he can’t wear sweats or his school uniform, things get dicey. There is much negotiating about what clothes are and aren’t acceptable. Last week, he wore khaki shorts (acceptable), but sitting on the apparently irritating back pockets drove him crazy. Grant sat and squirmed, kneeling only when we told him to kneel and standing only when we told him to stand. At one point, he asked if we would make Jacob switch pants with him mid-Mass. Despite missing another opportunity to leave the pew, Jacob declined.
Don’t forget: Mass is going on this entire time, in a crowded church.
We didn’t have these problems with Olivia, our 11-year-old daughter. But my beautiful, devout wife and I haven’t yet found the trick to getting the boys to act like the pious gentlemen we know they can be.
Here are some parenting strategies that clearly aren’t working: escalating looks of irritation, then anger; whisper-yelling at them; ignoring the problem while acting like you’re deep in prayer, silently hoping the other parent steps up; arm-grabbing; harder arm-grabbing; asking nicely; praying; threatening to take them outside for a lecture (or worse); actually taking them outside.
In other words, fellow parents, we’re open to suggestions. Leave a comment below. Please.
Scott Warden is the associate editor of OSV Newsweekly. Follow him on Twitter @Scott_OSV.
For more of Scott's Confessions of a Catholic Dad, click here.