Mass Hysteria

Well, I made the bulletin yesterday, and not in a good way.

Let’s back up a week, shall we.

We overslept last Sunday, and ended up at the 11:30 am Mass instead of attending the 7:30 am Mass as usual. This was a recipe for disaster.

There’s a reason, an excellent reason, for why we make a huge effort to go to Mass so early. It’s because it’s the only Mass where we can get GeekBaby to behave tolerably. At all. The 9:30 am is filled with kids he wants to play with and the 11:30 am falls on the early edge of his naptime. But I figured, since we all slept so late, maybe he could cope with the 11:30. And I was wrong. Terribly, awfully, horrifically wrong.

He was so bad last Sunday (we’ll get to how bad in a little bit) that after Communion, I marched him outside and collapsed into sobs. I was too tired even to spank him for his naughtiness. I was exhausted, bruised, and humiliated, and just wanted to go home.

And of course a crying young woman outside of the church draws attention. One of the ushers came and asked if I was alright, so I rallied and said I was fine, just that he’d been so naughty in Mass that I was tired and frustrated. No, I didn’t need anything. No, I was not going to bring him back inside the air conditioning. No, we didn’t need any bottled water. Just leave me alone! I didn’t say that last one, but boy, did I ever want to.

That usher, while I recognize that he meant well, was rude and condescending to me. He told me GeekBaby was probably just full of energy, and that he couldn’t have been that bad. All I wanted was for him to go away and leave me in peace to try and collect myself and wait for the Mass to end so we could all go home.

This week, there was a letter praising that usher in the bulletin. I excerpt here the part that has me steamed under the collar today.

“I noticed a young woman sitting on the ground outside the front entrance of the church when I was leaving Sunday. She was…sobbing, with her head down. There was also a small child who appeared to be well mannered standing beside her as she wept.

I stood just in earshot and listened to his kind conversation with her. Turned out that she was upset because her son…was ‘just not behaving himself’.

Hearing that, and as a father of 5 sons, I decided it was probably ok to leave, thinking to myself that if she’s this upset now, wait till he turns 13!”

Dear reader, that day during Mass, my son called me an idiot and a jerk. He spat on me repeatedly, slapped me twice, kicked me in the shins, and severely pinched me on a delicate portion of my anatomy. I had to wrestle him all through Mass, not because I was trying to enforce some ridiculous idea of him sitting perfectly still (an impossible task!), but because wherever I was, my position somehow offended him and needed to be shoved or yanked into a different one… I could go on, but I won’t. There’s no point dwelling on all the minutia.

But while violent and rude to me, he hadn’t actually gotten loud enough yet for me to struggle out from the middle of the pew with him thrashing. Better just to tough it out… Until he tried to escape from me in the Communion line. When I picked him up and carried him, he screamed “I’m TRAPPED! Help me!” And that was the last straw, we went outside instead of back into the pew.

Believe me, if my son is half this bad when he’s 13, I’m calling an exorcist. This, while humiliating and demoralizing, I can chalk up to him being three, can forgive, and had actually completely forgotten until I read the letter in the bulletin.

I just don’t understand the attitude of condescension I received. The letter is all about praising the small act of kindness of the usher, yet both the letter and the usher’s words sat themselves cavalierly in judgement of me as a mother and found me wanting. They couldn’t have known the amount of physical abuse I’d experienced in the last hour, or how my body ached from struggling with him, and my heart hurt from his attitude. Instead both the letter writer and the usher refused to understand. They implied that his misbehavior was imagined on my part. They didn’t offer me comfort. They didn’t remind me that this too shall pass. They didn’t offer friendly commiseration over their own children’s past bad behavior in church, which would have at least helped me feel less lonely.

All they gave me was judgement last Sunday… and yesterday a prolonging of the humiliation that I’d already forgotten.

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14 Responses to Mass Hysteria

  1. Flycat says:

    I am sorry that you got unwanted attention. I read the bulletin and it was an obnoxious story from someone who meant well but didn’t get the situation. If he really had 5 kids who he was taking to church he would remember how hard it is to wrangle a child during mass. That or he has amnesia because the memories were just too terrible.

    I’ve taken my monkey to church alone for the last three weeks (hubby is traveling not slacking) and it is hard to get anything out of mass especially with the stares. Especially since we have an ineffective cry room that elementary age kids run wild in. After someone getting their panties in a wad about monkey’s behavior gave me “that” look for the 100th time, I started to ask him where he thought future priests came from if their parents weren’t taking them to mass!

    After one really frustrating day, I saw our beloved priest shaking hands. I was embarrassed at how fussy monkey had been and he reminded me that babies will be babies and that others could deal. He also reminded me to ask for the intercession of St. Gerard when I was feeling frustrated.

    All of my friends say that three is hell and that around 3 is hell for boys because they get a surge of testosterone and have a hard time controlling themselves (a friend of mine’s son told her that his inner Viking was making him destroy everything in the house).

    It gets better, it has to get better or the human race wouldn’t have survived.

    I am praying for you and I hope it gets better (quick!)!

    • GeekLady says:

      Oh, I remember the newly mobile stage. We didn’t even bother to sit in the pews from ten months to after two years, we sat in the narthex where he could crawl and toddle to his hearts content without bothering anyone.. Until he started to focus on Mass as play time with other kids, it worked well. But when he started wanting to play, we moved back to the pews and started teaching him how to behave in church. (I have more reflection on that coming.) I can’t believe people would glare at your monkey, though! He’s still just a baby!

  2. I used to say that if I were God, I would have counted 1, 2… 4, 5. Three is the WORST (as well as, at times, the best). But kids do grow up. Really. As long as you don’t give in to the impulse to throttle them.

    You did the right thing, and it was miserable, and you were miserable, and someone else judged you for it. I think it’s fair — if you can do it gently and in love (and the man’s name didn’t appear in the first article) — to write the other side of the story. Done with charity, it can be a reminder to others that when a parent is struggling that should be a reminder to PRAY for him or her.

    On the going-to-mass front, the other thing to do is to say a novena with your son “to help him love Holy Mass”. I did this with my eldest banshee, the one who screamed hysterically as soon as we set foot in a church. We prayed to Little Therese (her favorite), and asked that when my daughter’s heart had settled on love that Little Therese would send us a gift of yellow roses.

    Life went on, and I guess gradually things got some better. It was barely perceptible. And then one day we were in mass (maybe six months later) and I realized that my daughter no longer had trouble at mass.

    As I turned to say something to my child, I noticed the altar in the corner of my eye. The flowers in front of it were yellow roses.


  3. mab says:

    I’ve got 1 word for that man, but since you have a family-friendly blog, I’ll keep it to myself. Here’s some other words besides condescending & judgmental (and yes, I’m judging him right now… I am soooo judging him….):
    *absolutely un-Christlike*

    I am positive that Jesus would have approached you as you were crying, but He would have listened and offered love & compassion instead of judgement. Then he would have felt no need to advertise his “good deeds” — and especially never in a way that shamed you.

    (Can you tell that I’m super duper mad at him? LIke super duper duper!)

    You are a great mom for taking GeekBaby to church & helping him learn about faith from such a young age. Keep up your great work & faithfulness.

    • GeekLady says:

      You know, mab, I’m not mad at the usher, who probably meant well, even if he flubbed it. I’m not even mad at the snide letter writer. I’m mad at our priest, who let that letter with that insulting commentary on me be published in the bulletin. There was no need to make that public. I feel so humiliated that I can’t even focus on writing my new set of CCE lessons for this fall. I don’t know how I’m going to walk back into the church hall on Saturday for our annual catechist training.

      • MelanieB says:

        Are you sure that the priest sees the bulletin before it gets printed? I’m pretty sure that in a lot of parishes the secretary puts it together and I’m not sure most priests have time to proofread. In any case, I’d be tempted to mention to him how humiliated you felt because if he’s really that clueless, someone should clue him in.

        Three really is such a hard, hard, hard, hard age. My three year-old has me sobbing almost daily.

        • GeekLady says:

          You know, now that you mention it, I don’t know exactly who added it to the bulletin, since it is unsigned. It occupies the portion of the bulletin that is almost always a letter from the pastor, which must be where I made that connection. The text also indicates it was an email to the parish, although I didn’t quote that part. I can’t think why anyone would send that sort of email to the secretary, though it’s possible. Thank you for some important perspective.

          The biggest issue is that mine is normally a delightfully sweet and well mannered boy. He’s also extremely shy and clams up whenever strangers are around, so at the moment the emailer saw us, he was well behaved. But he also had exactly what he wanted – to not be in the church. It’s a timing issue. From roughly 11-2 every day he’s a boisterous, violent little thing (he’s fighting sleepiness) and a little hellion if you cross him. After 2pm at the latest he crashes into a multi hour nap. Thus the insane sounding 7:30am Mass. First thing in the morning his willfulness is at its lowest ebb!

          • JoAnna says:

            Seriously, I would call your priest, explain the situation, and suggest that he talk to whoever is in charge of the bulletin. That letter was wholly inappropriate. It reeks of snide self-righteousness.

            I had a similar experience when my daughter was three. I was at a mass for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. I was seven months pregnant at the time and it was winter in North Dakota. My daughter REFUSED to walk out of the church for whatever reason and she was too heavy to carry. I was tired after a long day and just wanted to go HOME. So, frustrated and exasperated, I finally grabbed her hood and started dragging her out the door. She kicked and screamed most of the way. Once outside, I got a lecture from a mom loading a passel of kids into a 15-passenger van about how I shouldn’t treat my daughter that way and I should ask Mary for guidance, and she’s raised eight kids so she knew what she was talking about.

            Needless to say, it did not improve my mood or my disposition, but at least I didn’t have to hear about it in the bulletin later!

  4. sara says:

    I don’t know you, but I just want to say I’m sorry. It sounds like a horrible, painful day and if it had happened to me, I’d be dealing with it by eating ice cream alone in my room and vowing never to leave the house again. I’m impressed with you for saying the words out loud. Might it help to say them out loud to your priest or the publisher of the bulletin?

  5. dorianspeed says:

    I’m speechless. Wow.

    I would be SO MAD. I think I’d call the parish office, say, “I’m the young woman mentioned in the bulletin, and I think you should consider what impact running that letter may have had on other readers who also struggle with bringing their children to Mass.” The letter-writer was out of line but the real error is the decision to print it! (In my opinion. See how I’m speechless?)

    • Hallie says:

      Ditto to everything Dorian wrote. I’m so sorry you had to go through that. I would definitely talk to the priest.

      • GeekLady says:

        I never did anything about it. I was really mad… I am still, and it was years ago. But I feel so awkward trying to explain my whys (on anything I’m advocating, not just hurt feelings), especially to someone who’s just not sympathetic. So I shell up and just hope it goes away.

        • Dorian Speed says:

          I know what you mean. For what it’s worth, I’d be willing to be your partner in a Strongly Worded Email exchange. We could each make up a list and send as the other…

          • GeekLady says:

            🙂 This is such an old post, and as I read your comment via email, it took me a while to figure out what exactly you were talking about.
            I am mostly over it. But the memory stings. That’s nothing new under the sun, I still blush at the memory of minor social blunders from childhood. But I wish so much that more people knew how to be sympathetic to someone who isn’t necessarily like them. They may mean well… but it’s so easy to come across as awful.

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