Recently I had the privilege of standing by a young man I've known almost his entire life, as his confirmation sponsor. Confirmation is a big deal in the Catholic church--you don't usually have a choice when you're baptized, but receiving the sacrament of confirmation is really accepting the teachings of the Church as a person capable of making big decisions. Similar to Bat Mitzvahs and Bar Mitzvahs, (not theologically, but in the coming-of-age sense,) Confirmation is kind of when you become a grown up in your religion. Baptismal promises are renewed and you receive, along with grace, the fruits of the Holy Spirit. The Mass was beautiful and my nephew/godson was also being confirmed, with my dad as his sponsor, which made it even more of a special event.
But what really made it "special" were my two sidekicks for the evening.
My two kicking, screaming, fighting, squirming, gas-passing, lie-down-in-the-aisle-and-refuse-to-move sidekicks named Elka and Ingrid.
I knew it was going to be a rough night. I'd been lucky the night before for being able to leave all four girls with my husband while I attended the rehearsal, but for the night-of, he was going to be at work all through the Mass with no chance of getting away. Now, you might be thinking, "Didn't you say your nephew and dad were there too? Couldn't the girls sit with other family members?" Ha-ha. Yes, that was the plan. But what is that quote from my beloved Robert Burns about the best laid plans, anyway? Oh that's right, it all ends in doom and humiliation. I think that's what he meant.
We drove into town early in order to stop by the Catholic bookstore downtown and pick up a gift for each boy, then I'd planned to swing through a drive-thru for sandwiches or something to make sure that the girls had full bellies in order to get them through the long Mass (I've noticed our bishop talks very slowly) with help from the promise of a party afterward at Aunt Sarah's house. Just as we were getting into the van after purchasing the gifts, I got a text from my bestie saying it was Jimmy John's dollar sub day! That was perfect, because as well as being nervous about the upcoming evening, I was also flat broke and dollar subs sounded like a host of angels coming specially to save my day.
I'm an idiot!
I could see the line from half a block away. Hoards of people in a line that wound clear around the building, the parking lot overflowing with vehicles all the way into half of the neighboring lot (which is huge because the neighboring lot is a Menards hardware store!) I gave the girls the bad news that we didn't have time to wait half our life for dollar subs, but I still had to wiggle my van through the parking lot mess and turn around before I could be on my way to find something else for them to eat. At this point I was already out of time. I had about twenty minutes to get food and then drive across town, battling after-school traffic and coming dangerously close to the 5 o'clock rush hour. There were three places to eat between us and our destination: McDonalds, Arby's, or Starbucks. But, as is the recurring theme of this post, I'm an idiot! And I let the kids decide.
It was a unanimous vote for Starbucks.
"Ok!" I thought, "I had halfway hoped they'd pick Arby's, but I'll make them get something somewhat filling like a big pastry or a muffin." But the problem with that logic is that pastries and muffins aren't filling at all, no matter how much you will them to be.
We got the pastries. We ate them in the car. We actually did make it to the church right exactly on time. Now, I had talked to my family about my situation for the evening, and the plan was for my girls to sit with my mom and sister and nieces. It was a perfect plan. Perfect, except for the fact that we weren't dealing with average children, we were dealing with MY children, who can't do ANYTHING as it's been planned.
Admittedly, I had expected to have Ingrid with me during the Mass. She has been especially clingy lately, not wanting to be away from me for any amount of time, and that's fine, she's only three, she's really pretty good in church, it wouldn't be a big deal. Besides, our church even has a sign out front that declares us to be "A Pro-Life, Pro-Family Parish!" so really, who's going to notice an extra three-year-old in the procession line? She'd blend right in. And I had talked to Elka about the plan. I had told her that she and Anja and Greta would be sitting with Ooma. Over and over while we were waiting, I was explaining, "We are waiting here for Ooma and when she gets here you're going to sit with her." This had been a running theme of the past few days, she was NOT in the dark about this plan.
My mom and sister arrived just a few minutes before the Mass began, and I said I'd go ahead and keep Ingrid with me, no biggie, and I tried to hand Elka off to them and.... she wouldn't budge. She wouldn't let go of my hand. She looked at me with her scrunched up face that says, "I do not feel comfortable right now, and I am not going with these people, I'm staying with you, and if you say otherwise, you'll hear about it loud and clear." This face is the equivalent of Ingrid screaming, "NO! NO! I'M STAYING WITH MAMA!" We tried gently coaxing her, we tried reminding her of the party afterward, we tried luring her with the promise of sitting in the choir loft (a very rare treat!) We tried explaining the importance of the night and my role in the occasion.... we tried it all and only got closer and closer to that brink of a meltdown. At the same moment, we all said, "not worth it!" and I took Elka and Ingrid both up to my designated seat, which was a single seat (because I'm really only one person, I just have two independently functioning appendages) between two other sponsors and wrestled them into the pew where they immediately started fighting over my lap.
I wish I could say that they soon calmed down, that they were mesmerized by the Mass, or at least interested in the trumpet and the really beautiful dresses that some of the young ladies were wearing, but no. I wish I could say that after a few minutes they were able to relax and sit with my mom after all, or at least sit with my dad who was in our same pew, just a few seats down, but no. They didn't change their minds, and they didn't calm down. In fact, things escalated.
In the time between the processional song and the actual sacrament, we had all manner of fights. Screaming, shoving, snatching each other's peg dolls. (I keep four peg dolls in my purse for Mass--they are four different saints and I use them so that people will think I'm holier than I actually am. This effort is negated by the fact that the kids drew the faces on so Mother Theresa's head is just a bunch of blue scribbles, making her largely unrecognizable, and also that I'm frequently saying very unholy things like, "don't chew on St. Francis!" and "St. Faustina doesn't make toot toot noises!") In short, it was a circus. A miserable, humiliating circus. When it was time to walk in a line up to the front for the kids--ahem, the young adults--to be confirmed, it was my job to walk behind the young man I was sponsoring with my right hand on his right shoulder. The instructions were very clear. Right hand on right shoulder. I am a rule follower! I explained to Elka ahead of time, "when we walk up to the front, you will need to hold onto my skirt because I won't be able to hold your hand."
Elka did not feel like playing along that evening.
Elka did not feel like holding onto my skirt. Elka only wanted to hold onto MY RIGHT HAND.
No problem, I have two hands. I'll just shuffle her around to the other side and have her hold my left hand (which is also the arm I'm carrying Ingrid with.)
ELKA SAID NO. ONLY YOUR RIGHT HAND WILL DO.
Elka threw herself down on the floor in the middle of the church as we were processing to the front and screamed.
This is like the stuff of Catholic nightmares.
I pulled her up off the floor, switched Ingrid to my right arm, held Elka's hand with my right hand, WHICH HAD OTHER OBLIGATIONS, and I placed my left hand on the young man's right shoulder, which was not the way it was supposed to be, but I found myself thinking desperately, "Well, I supposed people who only have a left arm would have to use their left arm, and in this case it's kind of like I don't have a right arm, since it is clearly needed elsewhere, so maybe God (and the CCD teacher who will probably never speak to me again... and the bishop, whom I don't know personally, but understand is very strict...) will understand."
That was the worst of it. After the sacrament had been received, I slipped out the back of the church (not before trying once more to dump the kids with my mom, to no avail) for some air. Elka and Ingrid launched immediately into a game that involved a lot of screaming about erupting volcanoes and running up and down the stairs over and over again. They were happy, so I let them play. Eventually we returned to the church, and only for the very end of the Mass, back to our seat, where they were just as horribly behaved as they had been before. But at least then it was over.
I couldn't help but wonder during all this, WHYYYYYYY, GOD!? I came with the best of intentions, I came to do a really good thing despite difficult circumstances. And the whole sacrament is about receiving the Holy Spirit--was the Holy Spirit so preoccupied with the sacrament that no peace could be spared for my little sideshow of wild beasts? WHAT'S WITH THAT, JESUS??? If there's some kind of lesson here, I DON'T GET IT.
Afterward a family friend who has known me my whole life came up to tell me I'm a good mom and that I handled it all really well and that I'm a good lesson for parents like him who are still catching up in the parenting game. His words and kindness were such a comfort to me. Because really, I was totally mortified. It was one of those instances where on the drive home you calculate how much trouble it would be to switch parishes. I certainly didn't look or feel like a good mom and the behavior of my kids suggested they'd never been in a church before in their life, despite the contrary facts. My one sliver of hope is that Anja and Greta are perfectly behaved now, and I am not raising the littler ones any differently, so surely in a few years, they too will know how to behave in solemn situations.
I'm still trying to make out what kind of lesson or benefit could have been hiding in this whole event. Maybe it was just giving a roll-with-it example that some other parent could benefit from seeing, or solidarity with somebody else who has really poorly behaved young church attendees. Maybe witnessing such atrocious behavior from other children encouraged a parent to bring her kids to Mass. Or maybe I was just a really loud reminder for everyone in the church to appreciate their own offspring because "PTL mine aren't THAT bad!" Honestly, I can't really see how anything positive could have come from that fiasco.
But I'm trying to believe that something good came from it because, if nothing else, it does sound kind troublesome to switch parishes.