Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Cry Room, Contempt, and Why I'm so Tired

A few times a year it seems like the Catholic Internets break out the old Cry Room Debate, which is usually hotly followed by the Do Children Belong in Mass Debate, and I scroll through ridiculously long comment threads where individual comments also have their own ridiculously long responses, and remind myself that it's usually wise to just stay out of it.

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.  


  1. This is infuriating! Where is the love? I am so sorry you are experiencing this contempt from people who have no idea what your family's life is like. I agree, I'd be very worried about how much your children are picking up on the un-Christlike attitudes you are seeing at Mass. Praying for you.

  2. The behavior of those people is shameful. I would discuss this issue with your pastor. Perhaps he needs to do a sermon on how we should treat, "the least of these". Also, maybe I am wrong, but I think those people need to be confronted. They are out of control. A cry room is a place for crying children! It is supposed to be noisy.
    We are newer to our parish and our son is the only toddler that goes to mass. He is the typical toddler- loud, busy, and tearful. Every Sunday we have people praising us for taking him and our pastor always acknowledges him. Maybe a different parish would have a different vibe.

  3. Big hugs. I hate the cry room with a passion, but we were stuck there too. I don't know if they realize it, but they are pushing people away. The hypocracy and contempt shown is disgusting. The kids thing isn't why I left, but it didn't help.

  4. Cammie I'm with you in prayer and wishing I could hug you! I know that Christopher and Maggie aren't identical in their struggles but I feel you, and I have been there. I long ago stopped feeling bad about defending my kid, I have said to complete strangers "he's autistic, he's struggling, but this is a good day". I have watched in satisfaction and then dismay as they look horrified at their rudeness. Why dismay you ask? Because, it shouldn't take the fact that my kid is autistic to make a person cut me some slack.

    I know you have so much going on, but is it possible for you to become more involved in your parish outside of Mass? I think the most understanding came when we became more involved. In fact my mom, who is not Catholic, was telling me one of her co-workers who is Catholic told her about seeing us in Mass and it was a rough Christopher day (we sit in the 2nd row, everyone knows) and some people who must have been visitors or not regular attendees, were commenting on Christopher's behavior and someone nearby leaned over and told them that he's autistic. And the people just shut up. I have never felt more love from our parish and I don't even know who it was. The girl did not recognize either party so she couldn't tell me. Just, persevere, you are doing amazing!

  5. Our church doesn't have a cry room for the days that my children are loud and disruptive. Ya know what they do have? They have a plethora of middle aged men and women that don't have little children to hold that have on several occasions offered to give my husband and me a break and take the little boy outside so we can be mentally present in mass. These are the people that smile instead of glare when they hear baby noises. These are the people that told me over a year ago that I don't need to feel like I need leave mass for loud children that aren't misbehaving. These are the people that make comments like, "it's ok... he's two" when I make a nervous apology for the spilled Cheerios and the toddler shoe that fell from our pew Into theirs.
    I'm sorry that people suck sometimes. I wish everyone had the experience I have been blessed to have. I know it's probably not the norm.

  6. <3 I'll be praying for you all now, every Sunday at Mass.

  7. I am so sorry you are going through this. I agree that you should speak to your pastor. He might be able to run some interference for you, teaching in a homily or maybe helping facilitate an autism awareness lesson one evening for parishioners. He may also allow you to commute your Sunday obligation to a day during the week where the mass is smaller and you have less to contend with. People should not be treating you this way. I also think Jeanine had some great advice. Hugs and prayers!

  8. Wow. I am so sorry. What the actual %^&*?? Since when are Catholics anti-family or anti-child? Since when is it an usher's job to judge who gets to use the cry room? I can't help but think that perhaps this is the result of a generation of birth-control using "Catholics" who are used to a church with no children in it, and families of three-or-fewer kids. I just can't imagine that obedient Catholics would be so unused to large families and children's quirks that they would glare like that. Though of course, it only takes a small percentage of the people at Mass before there's *somebody* at each one. I'm so, so sorry. I don't know if it helps, but there's a beatitude just for you:

    “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account: Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you."

    Keep fighting, and keep going to Mass. It sounds like you're doing a great job. Haters gonna hate. Don't ever think it's you that's wrong. :0)

  9. I cannot even imagine. Our church (and our area) has ZERO cry rooms and so on the days our two year old is being especially two, I sign her into babysitting. Which I feel bad about but I don't want to disrupt the Mass and that's my option. However, except for one particularly sour-puss lady, most everyone at our Parish is INCREDIBLY understanding including our Pastor who makes it a point to thank all parents for bringing their children to Jesus at the end of every single Mass. I have no advice but will offer up my challenges for your family because yes, everyone is welcome at Mass regardless where they choose to sit. (And that usher makes me so upset because you know he'd have been just as mad if you weren't in the cry room and Maggie spoke.)

  10. I also think you should talk to the priest and maybe he can make a public announcemt about the parish welcoming families and how wonderful to have small children among us, something in those lines.
    I also agree that telling people Maggie has autism can help. My son's CP is obvious, but when he was smaller and still in a stroller people would comment on him being "too old to be in a stroller" and people a certain age, specially, would tell him to "get up and not be lazy" or stuff like that. I would say: "We would love that, but he has CP." They would redden and apolagize and say something in the lines of "I didn't know." I'd always answer "If you don't know, don't talk." Sweet revenge. Really, I should be more mature. I'm working on it.
    Jesus said "Let small children approach me" not "Let small children be either not seen nor heard, or at home." Small kids go to restaurants, ride buses, walk in the street, go to shops, to go movies, go to church and everywhere they are kids. Why should mass be any different? And if a child talking or making noises bothers you so much, go to evening Mass.

    Hang in there,

  11. I'm so sorry you've experienced this. Have you spoken with or written the pastors of these parishes? Sometimes they can do something/say something/remove ushers who are a consistent problem when they are made aware of the situation.

  12. This breaks my heart. I'm so sorry you have to deal with this! We go to the 4:00 Sunday afternoon mass and while it's geared more toward teenagers, there is a wide variety of people, as well as several special needs parishioners that help at that service. I love the welcoming attitude and the fact that it's a smaller service. I tend to avoid the more "formal" elderly crowd service. How is your priest? Does he have a welcoming attitude? Could you perhaps speak with him? I'm always amazed when people can't realize their behavior is driving people away.

  13. I'm a new reader but I just had to comment and say I am SO sorry this is happening to you. Kids are kids, no matter where they are - and didn't Jesus say let the little children come to me? I'm sick to my stomach that anyone present in a Mass would turn around and give you glaring looks for ANY behavior, let alone little kids being kids. I will pray for you and for those who obviously need help at your parish. I would be LIVID and would 100% be having meetings on meetings with my pastor or anyone who would listen to make it stop. Stay strong in what you're doing, although I'm sure it has to be heartbreaking to be treated that way over and over again. Praying for you!

  14. I'm so sorry you have to deal with this. I prefer to think of little ones fussing during Mass as St. Teresa of Calcutta did - that the little ones were singing.

  15. This simply steams me up. I think we all should be emailing the link to this post to every priest, deacon and bishop who has and email! Maybe some of them will actually do their jobs and speak out about how GOD wants everyone to react to a darling little girl chirping or a toddler having a meltdown. It is the devil using useful idiots and I bet every one of them thinks they are justified in their behavior! I just want to slap those persons who made things so unpleasant for you and suggest they consider where they might like to spend eternity-- I'm not certain God takes in unrepentant biddies. And if I EVER act like that I hope God kicks my ass from here to the moon and back.

    I wish I could give you a hug--and I am not much of a hugger--but the devil has been doing a good job undermining your peace, and in my 50+ years going to churches, the one constant I have found is that there are awesome people who are surely living saints and there are obnoxious people, mean people, cruel people, some are useful idiots who might improve with prayer for them, and then there are the undercover co-workers with satan who are nice to the right people and horrid to the core.

    oh they steam me up!! I've accepted that these sorts will be nasty to me but I really really get mad when such are nasty to other people!

    Off to pray for their souls as there is nothing more satisfying than thinking about how God, being loving and all, is going to discipline them so they can make heaven. Having often been one God has disciplined for my own improvement, I know how incredibly difficult and painful it can be-- and I just love inflicting nasty people with it. Doubly satisfying is that their repentance and entry into heaven also pains the devil who was putting them up to it. No better revenge than asking God to save their souls and truly praying that He succeeds.

  16. I've been reading your blog since Sadie was a baby. I'm an orthodox christian and I completely feel for you. When I only had ONE child and while pregnant with the second, I had someone walk up to me during Holy Week and actually say to me that I should have stayed home "until my child grows up"... There are no cry rooms in Orthodox churches and children participate in the Eucharist as soon as they are baptized, so you think people would expect to see children in Church, but obviously it's not the case. This was the rudest I ever dealt with (and my pregnant self left the service in tears that day) but we often get looks, and sometimes we get the worst of all, the "polite" comments! Something along the lines of "oh, you're so patient, your children are so lively! You really are patient and you don't scold them enough" etc etc... Our priest and most of the people are really very supportive but there is always someone to make you feel awful. Take heart, don't pay any attention. I think if we ignore this genuinely, our children will too. It is a heroic effort to bring young children to church, let alone many of them, let alone special needs ones like your lovely Maggie.I hope the grace of God consoles your heart and gives you strength. Sorry, my english is not perfect, I just felt like dropping a line.

  17. I can empathize as we've gone through similar. I think you should send this post to the parishes you've been to, hopefully some changes for better will happen. Right now, we attend a parish that's 50 minutes away... a big reason why is seeing the way that adults with special needs are treated. I wish we could make positive changes at our more local parishes but right now I can't handle the extra stress. Praying with empathy for you

  18. I'm so sorry. Sadly, this has been our experience as well. Have you tried an Eastern Catholic church? We find them and their Orthodox counterparts to be much more welcoming, especially to our own kids on the spectrum. Maybe because the priests are married with their own kids? And they are strengthened by the Eucharist from Baptism! The first weeks we attended we were on edge about everything, but only ever received smiles, even as our kids wandered up to the iconostasis, or rolled on the carpeted floor, or made the funny stimming noises my oldest is want to do with his mouth. The priest makes a point each week to give each of ours a high five. How can Catholics claim to be prolife when this is how our children and our special needs populations are treated? We were even turned away from ccd for our autistic son by our local parish!

  19. I am sending you BIG HUGS and praying, dear momma!!! I pray you are able to find peace and that God and Momma Mary wrap you in such a huge embrace that you feel the actual hug!
    I cried while reading this... I am so sorry you are having to go through this :(

  20. Oh my goodness. Those people are horrible. When my kids were younger I always attended the Family Mass on Sunday morning and sat us in the 'family' area of the church's seating. This is not a defined space. It's just where families tend to sit. It's near the car park (families are often late) and the toilets outside. So it's rather noisy and we have kids crawling between the pews looking for lost pencils, toddlers climbing over mum and dad's shoulders trying to escape, cousins finding each other and moving seats. Our church also provides a children's liturgy in the little hall up until just before the consecration so that everyone is back together for that. The other weekend masses are far more quiet. I hadn't really realised how child-friendly my parish is. Perhaps your priest might be open to some more child-friendly changes? I hope he is. He should be.

  21. Hi, Cammie. I was led here by someone sharing your Facebook post. You have every ounce of my sympathy and empathy.

    I have eleven kids. My second, now 21, is autistic. There were some harrowing times with him in church. We did stuff like giving him a single chocolate chip (one of the few treats he could have at the time) every few seconds that he was quiet, slowly drawing out the time between chocolate chips, until we could use a different reinforcement method (putting blanks on a card, telling him which letter to write every minute or so until he had a word, at which point he'd get a chocolate chip), and then drawing the new reinforcement method out until he didn't get rewarded until he had sentences, and...

    I get tired just thinking about it. And with an older sibling who wasn't yet helpful and younger siblings who had to be kept on top of, too. I just realized that I might sound like I'm giving you advice, and that's not the point at all. I'm just saying that I remember how exhausting those days were. I remember thinking that if God only gives us what we can handle, I wish he would realize how much of a wuss I really am. And it was harder for my wife, so often and in so many ways. Things get better, eventually.

    It sounds like our church was more forgiving than yours. That's the hardest thing to read in your post. God loves Mae as much as He loves that obnoxious usher and the quiet people sitting in the pews, and it would be really, really great if the obnoxious usher would get that straight. It's hard enough managing a kid, but an autistic kid, without the support of your fellow parishoners? I'm really sorry to hear that. There are a lot of us out here who understand, though. We love Mae and your other kids and you.

  22. So sorry you are dealing with this...I know it too well. And not just at Catholic Churches (though I admit, they have been some of the worst). I had someone chew me out last week because my son dropped a pencil. He's 13, and we just changed churches from Baptist to Lutheran, and they do things different, so instead of whispering and being disrespectful, when he has questions about something, he writes it down. He also makes notes on things from the readings or sermon he wants to talk about after church. And there is one lady who always has to say something.

    Take your kids to church proud. Tell them she's Autistic and needs a little more space. Know that despite other people's ignorance, Jesus wants you and your precious kids there, and no matter what you do, some people are just going to be judgemental. And they will have to answer for their judgement, not you

  23. It can be the area. I've been to parts of Virginia and Arizona. AWESOME with a capital A. Priests who understood, people who would help out. So many times I saw someone random offer to hold or watch or comfort a child while a parent attended to the other who was being noisier.

    New England? Not so much. It's a judgey land, as my husband says, "full of old Catholics waiting to die". We attend the Saturday evening Mass, which so many elderly consider their sacred right alone. We recently had to switch parishes because the priest started a during-Mass "nursery" and parishioners liked to mention loudly that we should be going to that Mass.

    I do believe we are living in a time where we will find that in some areas of the US the Catholic church will all but pass away. Fortunately, it seems, when many of those churches are closed for reorg and a new "combination" parish is formed, the dedicated, the loving, those who understand where adult Catholics come from (from baby Catholics, generally) are the ones who remain.

  24. I'm so terribly sorry and can completely empathize. It's down right frustrating. My parish priest has had to call people out in a nicer way. According to the kindergarten RE teacher, the reason why she returned to the Church was because he was so welcoming and without judgment. He just didn't care the circumstances but was happy that people come and are welcome. So yes, as others have said, talk to your priest. People are so obtuse as to what autism is because it's so invisible that they make such horrible rash judgements. But as you said, it shouldn't matter it's a cry room. That's what they are there for.

    A priest once said that a family brought their baby to Mass. The baby was very fussy so the priest stopped and simply asked if the baby was okay. The parents said that the baby had been like since the night before, but they weren't sure what was wrong. He asked if they would mind if one of the ushers, who was an EMT, could check the baby over. Turns out there was something medically wrong and the EMT told them to take the baby into the ER. His point was that we as a Church need to be more compassionate and get to know our neighbors. We are after all going to spend all of eternity with them. We might as well learn their names now.

  25. I'm sorry it happened. I'm sorry there's bad parishes like that out there. Like someone else alluded to, I wonder if it's sometimes it's because we've forgotten what large families were like. Most large families from my grandparents' generation (including the siblings from several grandparents) had at least one special-needs child (Down syndrom, epilepsy, etc), so it was very normal in many ways to have these kids in church and no one batted an eye. Now disabled children are not even given the chance to be born if they're diagnosed in-utero.

    We've had very few negative comments from fellow parishioners (although we haven't been immune), but I sometimes worry when we're being "disruptive". But I also refuse to use the cry room (AKA "mosh pit") because it doesn't encourage good behaviour in the long-term. If we're truly being loud and disruptive (which our autistic 11-year-old sometime can be, although the others have their moments one point or another over the years), we will remove them until they settle down. But we otherwise use strategies that encourages quiet.

    There is also an irony with the lady with the pink head covering. It's difficult to comprehend how someone who, on the surface, appears to identify with the more traditional aspects of the faith (including the welcoming of children) can be so venemous.


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