Mostly I do.
I've spent a month trying not to write this. I wrote the last two posts particularly trying to force this one out of my head.
When I got up and walked out of the second Mass in three weeks I knew it would be coming soon though, that I would have to get the thoughts down on paper and out of my head. I walked fast, holding Maggie's hand, and we walked over a mile and stood by the ocean until she was tired and said "sit down, please?" and then Paul found us and I quickly said "I know we left but she deserves a doughnut" and he nodded because she wasn't the one who had done anything wrong.
I'm so utterly and completely tired of being glared at during Mass.
We stay in the cry room. We do it because I'm tired of the looks that we get when Maggie gets excited and makes a little high pitched chirping sound, or looks up at the ceiling and squeals. And because my stress level is considerably lower without those looks.
Inside or outside the cry room I'll spend all of Mass working with her on being quiet, on sitting still, on sitting up, but at least inside the cry room no one will turn and shake their heads while glaring at me.
Over the years I've heard many people say that families are welcome in the pews and should stay out of the cry room. But reality is harder.
Let me go back. A month ago as we were getting ready to go to Mass I felt a heavy weight settle in my chest. "You've seen it too? I just don't get it? It wasn't like this for the last year. And all the sudden every week?" I peppered Paul with questions.
He had noticed it. It was impossible not to. Maybe it was the snowbirds? Certainly it wasn't something that used to happen, but now it was happening constantly since the school year had ended and summer had started. Or maybe it was closer to Easter? Yes, Easter Sunday was the first time I remember someone catching my eye and then looking at our family with such pure disgust from a couple feet away as we filed forward in line. At the time I thought it was probably someone who was there for their twice a year stop in, but the shaken heads and glares had persisted.
We love our parish. We love our parish school. Of course the vast majority of people are welcoming and...not jerks. But I couldn't help but be troubled.
It doesn't bother him nearly as much as it bothers me. But I hate it. I hate walking up to receive the eucharist and having on average two or three people turn around and glare at my family.
They do it on weeks when the two year old is being a two year old and they do it on the weeks when everyone is behaving exactly as they should for the two minutes that we're actually walking down the aisle and back to the cry room.
The first ten or so times it happened I smiled brightly and made eye contact with a "maybe you're accidentally giving my family a death glare" sort of look that was as friendly as I could force it to be. Usually the person looks away, only to track down my family again and glare, often shaking their heads.
I know that I certainly can have a very serious expression on my face without realizing it, so I try to give the benefit of the doubt, but when a person is radiating disgust and anger two pews up on the aisle, and turning completely around to crane their neck, it can be hard to miss, even when you're trying really hard not to see it.
It was the same morning that Paul and I had discussed the looks that really broke me. My parents were visiting. We had a four to five, adult to child ratio, so I was cautiously optimistic. I was struggling with getting Tessie out of the car and told everyone else to go ahead. I'd meet them inside.
And that is how I came to be walking into the cry room behind a lovely family, who immediately stopped on the threshold when they saw my family sitting in the front row. Maggie was weeping like her heart was broken.
She has had a really hard time since the day of seizures, and this was shortly after she'd had them.
The mother of the family who was frozen in the doorway of the cry room was wearing a lovely pink head covering as she turned, taking her two older children by the arms. "I am not going to be putting up with this crap!" she said loudly to her husband as she glared at my daughter.
"It's a cry room," I said, my hands shaking as I reached for the door. "Sometimes there are children in it who are crying." Her husband stared at me, mouth half open, but she didn't appear to have heard me in the midst of her tirade.
Maybe if the hostility was a one time I wouldn't have burst into tears. Maybe it's because it feels like Mass should be the one place where I don't get glared at and don't see those disapproving shakes of the head.
Maggie couldn't stop crying either and we retreated outside together, where she sat in my parents car and ate doughnuts, and I sat in our van, nursing Tessie and sobbing. The one incident was a culmination of unrelenting weeks of smiling through the contempt and pretending it didn't bother me.
Then last week arrived. We were on the road. The rest of the family had gone to various Masses. We were waiting for Mass at a parish with a cry room. And so it came to be that Paul and I took Sadie and Maggie and entered the beautiful blue walled parish while the other kids played back at the house.
Paul asked where the cry room was and an elderly man pointed the way. We went and sat down. I started the weekly routine. Sit down. Shhhh, shhhh, shhhh. Look it's Jesus. "Love you Jesus." That's so good Mags!
An usher looked in and shook his head, radiating disapproval. Maggie wasn't making noises in that moment. I was holding on tight to her as she sat next to me. In those ten seconds she looked like any other perfectly normal seven year old who was old enough to be in the pews and the usher made it clear with a long glaring gaze that he didn't think we should be in the little room with the large window either.
Fifteen minutes into Mass she got up and leaned close to the glass, peering through it across the church at the altar, her face glowing. My heart felt warm.
And then his face was there glaring at us disapprovingly through the glass.
We shouldn't be there.
And so, before I made a scene and unleashed the anger that was boiling up in my chest as he glared at my daughter, I got up and took her hand and walked out, feeling sick to my stomach as we walked down to stand beside the ocean, with Maggie talking in a sing song chirp about mermaids all the way.
It wouldn't bother me so much if I was the one being glared at. But my kids? The mama bear inside me has been poked and prodded week after week by seeing these looks directed at them. And I can't take it any more.
Except I do. Because the Eucharist. I can remember why I'm there. Just barely. But I'm so, so tired.
I can laugh now when someone in the line at the super market inquires about whether we're "done yet." There's little that I haven't heard from complete strangers, and while it used to bother me I can genuinely now laugh at the ridiculousness of so much of what I've heard.
But in Mass the one place where maybe we might be safe from the contempt? The place where I work as hard as I possibly can to not bother anyone, while teaching my children about God?
As most of my readers know I'm a convert to Catholicism. I've only been here for a decade. And that means I was Protestant for long enough to remember what it's like to go into a church and actually be welcomed to the service by people who don't act like your being there is a massive inconvenience for them. I remember what it was like to go to church with people who actually seemed genuinely happy to see me (and I remember what that was like when our girls were tiny too, before our family became too big, or too loud, or too something).
I'm not going anywhere. I believe that the body and blood of Christ are there at every Mass and that alone is enough to draw me back. But I worry about my kids who are getting old enough to notice the contempt. Or that someday someone is going to make one too many rude comments and instead of the "Bless your heart" I sometimes rehearse in my head I'll end up being lead to my car shrieking like a crazy person.
You don't need to praise families with little kids who are obviously doing the best they can. But if you're out there at Mass, and for some reason you find yourself distracted by a family with a small children maybe offer up a prayer for them instead of a hard look. And maybe say one for me too.
I need it. I've made it through two of the last four Masses I went to before I went outside with tears in my eyes and it wasn't because my kids were the ones being naughty.