As every Sunday, we all went to Mass this morning. Unfortunatly, the girls behaved worse than I have seen them in quite a while, especially Cecilia. To some extent, I wasn't surprised. They spent the last week running around Disney World and it takes children time to adjust back to normal life just like it takes adults. Cecilia wanted to spend her time at Church playing, especially in the form of moving slowly farther and father away from us and smiling or laughing when we instructed her to stay closer to us.
Naturally, this caused quite a bit of frustration for James and myself. But I became furious when a woman and her children (both of whom were a few years older than mine) sat in the 3rd pew from the front, the pew behind us, during the homily and proceeded to get out a box of a couple dozen crayons, coloring books, pretzels, and Pez candy with a Pez dispenser.
How in the world am I supposed to discipline my children and teach them to behave properly during Mass when they see children behind us munching candy and pretzels and playing? How can I teach Cecilia that Church is not Disney World and Mass is not Playtime if she is watching children play and snack during Mass?
I became so angry and upset that I was disgusted at myself for my emotions during Mass, but I confess I did not know how to stiffle them. During the Presentation of the Gifts, I grabbed Felicity (I can carry her) and left the Church. While I was with Felicity, James had just as much trouble with Cecilia and, just after the consecration, had to grab Cecilia and the diaper bag and leave the Church.
Neither of us approve of food or toys during Mass (the exceptions being infants - who, let's face it, eat when they eat and might need a quiet chew toy when teething, and necessary juice or sweet for a diabetic). We allow each girl to pick up to two books to bring. No toys. Nothing that makes noise. No food or snacks. We bring in one water cup just in case, but rarely use it. We understand that not all parents agree with us. But that is one of the several reasons with sit within the first 2 pews if at all possible - to avoid the influence of such distractions on our children.
I've heard, and found to be true, that sitting in the front so small children can see everything that is happening, helps young children behave better at Mass. However, this is NOT the case IF the children have toys and snacks that only tell them that Mass is another snack time or play time. IF you give children such distractions, it doesn't matter where you seat them - the distractions win - they win with the children, and often with the adults as we heard crinkling bags and "Mommy, can you open this?"
Was this woman and her children's behavior responsible for my girls misbehavior? Certainly not. But not only did they fail to provide any sort of good example for my children who are significantly younger, but even strove to undermine everything we sought to do to discipline ours by demonstrating the exact opposite.
Why is it acceptable for parents to bring such things to Mass? I've seen McDonald's Hashbrowns, Leap Frog Electronic toys, crayons, action figures, etc. Why do priests not say anything? If I came to Mass with a portable DVD player, would anything be said then? What would the line have to be before it is crossed? Why does no priest draw a line and simply ask parents not to bring such things unless absolutely necessary. Let's say your child hasn't eaten and needs something to tide him through Mass - for whatever reason - is anyone going to tell me their child really NEEDED Pez candy and preztles in one of those lovely crinkly bags?
Obviously there is no concensus among the faithful of just what is appropriate to bring to Mass for children or what sort of behavior at Mass is appropriate. Maybe it is time the clergy waved just a little of their authority in their own churches and made some clear guidelines? And if something really NEEDED to be brought that could be a distraction, why can't priests ask that such distractions be kept at the back of the church?
I'm running out of places to sit!