Sunday, October 4, 2015

Parade of Babies

Originally written in October 2015, I have always wanted to add just a few more things to this post.  I finally had time to do that today.  


To those young parents juggling cranky babies, tired toddlers, and chatty preschoolers at Church– tough moments may be overwhelming, but those moments end.   New moments follow.  Those will bring smiles, warmth, and encouragement, and not just for you - but for others.  

“We need to see more babies,” my daughter whispered to me on Saturday night.

I smiled and nodded.  We had just seen the tail end of what we call the Parade of Babies.  My daughter only saw three babies that night.  We usually see many more, but at the Vigil Mass this weekend, The Parade of Babies is short. On Sundays, we see so many more children.  

Young moms wear their babies.  

Young dads hold their preschoolers.  

Wiggly toddlers are juggled in mom’s arms and then in dad’s.  

Sometimes, older brothers or sisters are tasked to pitch in to help a younger sibling.  

Where they'd rather be playing, talking or running around outside, the youngest members of my church haven't mastered sitting quietly through Mass just yet.  With more practice and encouragement, that'll come.  Thankfully, they are not admonished for their typical, playful behavior. 

I love seeing young families at Mass.  Still having to split up because my son is unable to attend, my husband goes to the early while I go to the later Mass on Sunday.  On rare occasions, like this evening, I get to go to the Vigil Mass.  No matter which one I'm attending, I find it encouraging to see so many families sitting together at Church.  But just like what I usually witness on Sunday mornings, not every family makes it through Mass in one spot.  Some find themselves having to retreat from the pew and the congregation to seek shelter in a quieter spot.  

The quieter spot in our Church is a small vestibule.  Situated between the sanctuary and the entrance of the Church, soon after the Gospel, it can get quite crowded in there.  That's when, one by one, several young parents leave their pew.  Looking for refuge with their child, they sit, they stand, and sometimes, depending on how many have gathered, they overcrowd the small vestibule together.

With the children’s cries and the parents’ exhaustion muffled behind the glass French doors, Mass continues.  

As the end of Mass nears, those of us who've been able to stay in our pews will soon get a peek at something special.  A group of harried parents begins to line up to receive Communion with one, two, and sometimes three or more children in tow.  Among the last of the congregation to receive, they walk from the vestibule toward the altar.  

Finally, the Parade of Babies begins.  

The most vulnerable and the most innocent of lives in our parish start to whisk past me.  With the parade in full swing, my youngest daughter and I stare in awe.  On a Sunday morning, babies of all shapes and sizes, and some with little volume control, captivate us.  We see fewer young ones tonight, but we are just as excited to see them.  

As I spy them coming down the aisle, I glance at their parents.  Young.  Tired.  Dedicated.  I cannot help but stare.  Rushing toward the back of the Church again, many of those holding these precious babies bypass their pew once more.  Instead of being able to kneel, pray, and join in the last few quiet minutes of Mass, several parents return to the cramped vestibule.  With their wiggly toddler, chatty preschooler, or a finally snoozing infant, those who've had to scurry toward the back are still able to participate.  They may not have been able to sit with the rest of us in the pews, but they have joined in the prayers.  They have reflected on the readings.  They have been offered a Sign of Peace, too.  

Juggling a child who wanted to be elsewhere wasn't easy, but these parents and those devoted caregivers stayed as focused as their child's short attention span allowed them to.  They could've taken a few more steps through the vestibule and walked out the church doors toward the parking lot when things got overwhelming, but they didn't.  

They stayed.  

They prayed.  

And they received.  

I am thrilled that these parents overcame bursts of distractions and moments of temporary frustration.  Saying a thankful prayer for them, my thoughts bring me to my own parenting and how it's shaped me.  I think about my own children, too, including my son who didn't make it to Mass once more.  I long for him to be there with me, but I know that sometimes, home is a much better place for him.  Proving over and over again that that's true, I'll sometimes feel an overwhelming sadness that he cannot be at church with me.  But I quickly remember to be joyful.  That's because while he was safe and happy at home, I had the opportunity to go to Mass.  I had the opportunity to participate in it fully.  And, like these other tired and brave parents, I also had the opportunity to receive.  

Having juggled what I've had to juggle, and having tripped over myself - or a child who wouldn't budge, I see my younger self in some of the parents' faces.  Offering a polite smile when I can as they walked by, I hope it gives them some sort of reassurance.  From the newest member of our church wrapped in receiving blankets, to the oldest—usually a child of 4 or 5 years of age, children of all ages and stages were lovingly held, firmly lead, and quietly reminded to follow that parents' lead.  What a treat it was to see them process down the aisle, too.  

Some may not see what I see though.  Some may only see a young, loud child who doesn't listen.  They may only hear the chaos and the cacophony coming from their little bodies.  These children can be so very distracting!  But it's during their distractions that I and others are called upon to concentrate more.  While we are distracted by the most vulnerable and the most innocent lives in our parish, I am also reminded that their loud, little lives are sacred.  Even though their are wiggly, tired, and cranky, they are first and foremost beautiful children of God.  No matter what size, no matter what age, and no matter what volume level they do (or do not) use, these children are precious.  

Stealing a peek at them themselves, my children eagerly look forward to seeing younger children at Mass.  Right before the Parade of Babies begins, I sense their excitement.  

Feeling a nudge on my right arm and hear a small whisper, “A newborn!  Mom, did you see how tiny she was?”  

I feel another nudge on my left arm, “Twins!  Did you see the twins?!”  

With each of us grinning, we try to keep our heads low and our voices lower.  Not wanting to distract those near us, my children and I cannot help but smile.  We feel and see God’s grace in the sweet faces that have just marched past us.  We see and feel the pride, as well as the exhaustion, in the parents' faces as well. 

Having been that young mom who needed to find that quieter spot, I have great admiration for the young families in my Church who find that they need to remove themselves temporarily each weekend.  The minutes on the clock may tick by painfully slow for them, but they made it through.  They made it through moments that felt endless.  They made it through the embarrassment, the frustration, and the sadness that may have cropped up, too.  More importantly, they made it through to Communion, to the Final Blessing, and to the end of Mass where they will soon be reunited with the rest of their family.

The Parade of Babies happens each week in our church and no doubt in many churches.  It isn’t a very long parade, but it is one that brings me and my children great joy.  The joy may not yet be felt by the young parent who's had to hold a squirmy, gassy child or for the parent who's trying to hush hush a cranky, loud toddler.  But seeing that Parade of Babies toward the end of Mass is such a delight.  

Even as short as tonight's was, as it went by, we witnessed sacrifice, we witnessed love, and we witnessed life.  We know that life is not always respected.  Until it is, our family will continue to bow our heads, we will continue to pray for peace, and we will continue to encourage those young parents who find themselves walking in the Parade of Babies to always keep marching forward.  

xo, Cat

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