Happy Feast of the Immaculate Conception! The Blessed Virgin Mary under this title is the patroness of the United States. This also happens to be the name of our local parish, as well as the name of our university's chapel. And, of course, this solemnity (which celebrates Mary's own conception free of sin) is a holy day of obligation. Given that we are at a Marianist university, it's also a university holiday! So I was excited that Jeff, Maia and I would all be able to go to Mass together. Normally on Mondays I've been going to Mass with the Marianist priest/brother community at Our Mother of Good Counsel Chapel at 6:55 a.m. I would have slept in, but Maia woke me up at 5:00 a.m. by yelling at me in her sleep to give her dinner.
Anyway, Jeff and I had some debate about where and when we ought to go to Mass. Often on such holy days we've gone to the university service since this is our normal spot for daily Masses. But a noon Mass didn't seem like a good idea with Maia-not to mention that she knows how to escape the university chapel. In addition to this, we sometimes don't feel comfortable taking Maia to Mass on campus because, well, she's sometimes loud at Church.
So our parish today had two options: 8:15 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. Of those two, we figured Maia would probably be better behaved at the morning option. If we had expected Maia to blend in at this Mass, however, we were wrong. For some reason it didn't really occur to me that not everybody gets off for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The attendees of this Mass basically fit into two categories: 1. the students of our parish school and 2. retired people who don't work and hence could attend a Mass at this time.
Because the students comprised the majority of the main transcept, we sat in a different spot than usual. All was fine in the beginning. Maia was quietly playing with her doll, pretending the kneeler was a balance beam, eyeing Father Satish, and, at one point singing (almost inaudibly) "Yankee Doodle Went to Town." At one point, however, Maia decided to walk down the balance beam to the end of the pew and try to escape. Even at nine months pregnant, I managed to catch her before she made it to the sanctuary. After this, Jeff and I switched spots. When she next tried to escape, the man (an older gentleman) behind us informed us that there is a cry room in the back of the side transcept.
Now, we are perfectly aware of the location of the cry rooms in our Church building. We've been members of this parish since before we were married, long before Maia was born. But I have to admit that I have mixed feelings about cry rooms. Sometimes, parents seem to use them as excuses to let their children run around as much as they want. Occasionally, they are a relief, and we have used the cry room in several instances. But in general, I wonder why we expect that some members of the Mystical Body of Christ belong behind glass if they can't be perfectly silent. Toddlers are part of the Church, and toddlers will be toddlers. Removing them from the Mass setting as a rule is certainly problematic, and removing them when they are creating very little disturbance just seems unnecessary. In my sleep-deprived spark of anger, I wanted to tell the man he should consider joining a monastery. Of course, that would not have been a very Christian response. So - after fantasizing about having glass rooms where we can contain people who want absolute silence at Mass - I prayed to Mary to keep me from sin during the Eucharist in honor of her.
What happened is that Jeff ended up taking Maia to the cry room; he felt obligated to do so after the man suggested it. Once there, she promptly started crying and screaming. Appropriate, isn't it? She was actually more audible with the increase in volume than she had been in our pew in the side transcept. So I went back there and retrieved my family after Maia's promise that she would behave if we took her back to the pew. Jeff and I were both frazzled, however, and we stayed at the far end of the pew, away from the man behind us. I wouldn't even let Maia retrieve her baby doll, which she had left at the other end.
Anyway, I realize that I live with a toddler and am used to the distractions she brings. I value daily Mass without her, just as a I value Sunday Mass with her. It is nice to have a quiet setting in which to pray. But at the same time, my Mass experiences in Kenya prove that children (including toddlers and babies) don't NEED to be separated from the rest of the Church. I sometimes think it's the declining American birthrate that enables us to be so distracted by the small noises of children during services. But then again, I know some cultures (all European, I believe) have traditionally kept children home from Mass. So I have mixed feelings, and I don't want to be a distraction for others. But I do wish that people wouldn't glare at my husband, my toddler or me. And I wish they would leave our decision to go behind glass to ourselves with a slightly higher tolerance for the musings of toddlers, who are, after all, members of the Mystical Body of Christ.