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.
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 night. We usually see many more, but at the Vigil Mass this weekend, The Parade of Babies was rather short. On Sundays, we see so many children. Young moms wear their babies. Young dads hold their preschoolers. Toddlers are juggled in mom’s arms and then in dad’s while older brothers and sisters pitch in to help keep younger siblings quiet.
I love seeing young families at Mass. Still having to split up, my husband goes to the early while I go to the later Mass, I find it encouraging to see so many families sitting together at Church. Not every family makes it through Mass in one spot though. 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, before the end of Mass, one by one, several young parents have left their pew and headed toward the back of the Church. Looking for refuge with their child, they sit, stand, and sometimes, depending on how many have gathered, crowd the vestibule together.
With the children’s cries and the parents’ exhaustion muffled, Mass continues.
As the end of Mass nears and as the faithful line the aisle to receive Communion, with one, two, and sometimes three or more children in tow, a young and tired mom, or a buff but exhausted dad, bring up the tail end of the Communion line. They are among the last of the congregation to receive.
Scurrying toward the back of the Church again, many bypass their pew once more and return to the vestibule. With their wiggly toddler, chatty preschooler, or finally snoozing infant, they've participated, they’ve joined in, they’ve reflected. Offering a weary smile and a quick handshake during the Sign of Peace, they’ve stayed as focused as their child’s short attention span would allow. As easy as it would be for them to walk right out of Church, they stay. They pray. And they receive.
I forget about this small group of fellow parishioners until after I have received Communion. As I returned to my pew, I spy them. I see their children. Mostly typical children, I cannot help but stare. The Parade of Babies begins.
My gaze falls on the parents and then on their children. 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 sizes and shapes are being lovingly held, firmly lead, or quietly reminded to closely follow.
It’s during this time that I am trying to concentrate on praying, but I am distracted by the most vulnerable and the most innocent lives in our parish. The Parade of Babies whisks past me and the children I’ve brought to Mass that day. It isn't all of my children; one of mine has again had to stay home with Daddy.
Stealing a peek themselves, my children, who are eagerly watching, smile. I feel 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?!” We try to keep our heads low and our voices lower. Not wanting to distract those sitting near us, my children and I cannot help but smile. We feel and see God’s grace in the young, sweet faces that have marched past us.
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 from Mass each weekend. While the minutes on the clock may tick by painfully slow, they make it through the entire hour. They make it through moments that feel endless. They make it through the embarrassment, the frustration, and the sadness that may come, too. But they also make it through to Communion, the Final Blessing, and to the end of Mass when they will soon be reunited with the rest of their family.
The Parade of Babies happens each week. It isn’t a very long parade, but it is one that brings great joy – maybe not to the young parent who's had to hold a squirmy, gassy child or for the parent trying to hush hush a cranky, loud toddler. But seeing that Parade of Babies toward the end of Mass brings joy to me and to my children. We are witnessing sacrifice. We are witnessing love. We are witnessing life. We respect that life and are so grateful to see it parade past us.