I did it. I went to church with my 17-month-old. On the surface, maybe that doesn't sound like a feat, but for me it was a moment of conquering a crippling fear that I'd be that mother with the child flinging yogurt at the back of someone's head, or ripping apart the pages of a hymnal.
The only alternative, in my mind, was to sit in the nursery during service. But how can you become spiritually fulfilled when you're unable to hear the sermon in a room full of kids? In that case I could just schedule another session at the local Gymboree.
I haven't been completely estranged, if attending church for my son's Baptist christening and Catholic baptism (long story) count. There was also the time we went as a family, but our son was then a pacifier-loving newborn and immobile. Finally, after several months in absentia and a laundry list of excuses, I was determined to be present with our 17-month-old in tow.
It was a chaotic Sunday morning, but I arrived on time. (Note: In mommy time, that means before the preaching started.) Xavier snacked on Cheerios, animatedly clapped while the children's chorus sang, engaged with his pop-up book, and then played with his iPad Mini. I was prepared, or so I thought. The iPad was brand new, and neither my husband nor I had downloaded any apps and there was no Wi-Fi access inside the church. I cowered in my seat and braced for a meltdown. Xavier started swiping and banging on the iPad maniacally, but his attention was easily diverted when I offered him a church program and a pen.
Maybe my son doesn't know he has an inside voice yet or that every child isn't as social as he — he waved and smiled at a 4-year-old sitting next to us, and his friendly gesture was returned with a blank stare. But no one gave me the side-eye as if to say, “Control your child.” Mission accomplished. I was proud.
Finally, Xavier started to get sleepy. As I curled him into me, one arm around his back and the other across his legs, his pants felt damp. I was optimistically hoping he spilled his water. I checked his sippy cup to see if there was a leak. Negative. Instead, his diaper was swollen to capacity. That never happens, but, of course, that day it did. There went my plans to go directly to the grocery store after church.
Because I had double-parked in the church's reserved parking lot, I wouldn't have time to change Xavier in the bathroom. When the service ended, I woke up my son, grabbed the diaper bag, put his coat and hat on, and bolted out the church's double doors. I raced down the steep steps and across the icy road to move my car.
I arrived in the parking lot where two stiletto-wearing women (Did I mention there was still snow on the ground?) stood at their car doors.
“I'm coming, I'm coming,” I shouted, walking briskly and carrying a bundled-up toddler resembling Ralphie's brother in “A Christmas Story.” After strapping Xavier into his car seat, we headed home with a sense of accomplishment and a need for dry clothes.
5 tips to get through your church experience:
– Bring books. It's a quiet activity, and the more interactive the book, the better.
– Have snacks and water. This will keep their little mouths occupied and help stave off any hunger-related temper tantrums.
– Encourage your child to participate. You want to establish good church behavior and set expectations, so allow him or her to sing and read along when appropriate.
– Sit where you can make an exit. Keeping a toddler stationary for an hour or more can be challenging, so find the most opportune time to go for a mid-service walk.
Know you're not the only parent going to church. Many people have kids or know kids and understand that they won't be perfect, particularly a toddler. In church.