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 a yogurt drop at the back of someone’s head, crawling under the pews, or ripping apart the pages of a hymn book.
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.) X snacked on Cheerios, he animatedly clapped while the children’s chorus sang, he engaged in his pop-up book, and then he 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. X 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 four-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 to say, “Control your child.” Mission accomplished. I was proud.
The last 20 minutes of the service, X 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 to the touch. 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 today 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 any time to change X in the bathroom. I woke up my son, grabbed the diaper bag, put my son’s coat and hat on, and bolted out the church’s double doors. I raced down the steep steps, across the icy road, sure to get there on time. A friend driving by stopped to speak. Sorry, but there was no time to chat.
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 X into his car seat, we were headed home with a sense of accomplishment and a need for dry clothes.
Five tips to get through your first church experience
* Bring books. It’s a quiet activity, and the more interactive the book, the better.
* Have snacks and water at the ready. 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/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 mother going to church. Many people have kids or know kids and know that they won’t be perfect, particularly a toddler. In church.