Fighting over bones

Confession: my family has eaten too much fast food for the last two weeks.

Yesterday, Fritz had a soccer game (they scored three goals which is awesome…except the other team scored 9). Since the game was in Tampa, Bill was able to come.  Since the game was in Tampa, the stop and go construction traffic meant he only saw the last 10 minutes. 

Afterward, we went as a family to the mall to shop for each other.  Bill takes half the kids shopping for me, while the other half shop for him.  Plus each child buys for one sibling (we draw names out of a hat).  I think the insane trip to the mall is what they will most remember in 20 years. I remember going with my dad to shop for my mom. It’s the fabric of family life.

We arrived at dinnertime, so we went to the food court where we had to go to 4 different places to please everyone. Bill and I had burgers from Five Guys. What a treat.

Fritz had pizza, which he’s really not supposed to eat because he has an overbite and braces to correct the overbite and the braces hit his teeth when he chews. He uses a knife and fork and is careful not to mash his jaws together. And he doesn’t eat the “pizza bones” – the crust.

I can’t remember which siblings ate the first crust, but Billy was hungrily waiting for the second one. Billy and Peter had eaten sandwiches from Subway. Just as I had done when we ate at Subway earlier this week, Bill restricted them to 6″ subs. And it was not enough for the growing boys.  Fritz was done and handed over the crust, but now Peter was claiming half for himself. They started to bicker, each expounding on why he was entitled to this scrap of food, and appealed to me to render a favorable verdict.  

“You split it,” I told Billy, “and he picks the one he wants.”

And then I saw the man at the next table throw his head back and laugh. He’d been watching us, this young dad with two little girls. Probably fascinated by my enormous family, definitely intrigued by boys, certainly curious about how the older, more experienced parents would handle this typical situation. I am just glad that, at that moment, the big girls were walking the squirmy tot around, I had finished a wholly delicious meal, and I was relaxed and mellow, enjoying sitting next to my husband while we waited for the kids to finish up. I don’t always have a good reaction to kid bickering, but the conditions were right and I was able to be the good mom when I needed to.

But can I just say how fatiguing it is to always be “on” – to know that there is always someone watching, evaluating, judging?  

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Dear Young Mom,

Yes, you, the one rushedly ushering her four children out of Mass last night before it was over.

I didn’t mean to eavesdrop.  I know you hesitated before lecturing your oldest…is she 7 or 8?  Probably getting ready for First Holy Communion, and just having made her First Penance…plus being the oldest child…she knows right from wrong and just has to correct those younger brothers, even if it does cause the meltdown you desperately wanted to avoid.

I’m that bossy woman in the vestibule who blocked your escape and made you wait for the final blessing.  I’m sorry if I overstepped my bounds.  I just thought you needed some reassurance.  When I said I know how you feel, I meant it.  Really.

Perhaps you think I have no idea.  Maybe you saw my family across the aisle during Mass.  Six, or at least five, well-behaved and reverent children who did not need their mother’s constant reminders to be quiet, pay attention, keep their hands to themselves, sit/stand/kneel.  In fact, yes, I did leave them to take the toddler out, and they still behaved properly without any adult supervision.  This is not an indictment on your parenting at all.  In fact, it should give you hope.

Eight or nine years ago, I had 4 children under the age of reason.  It was hard.  Let no one tell you otherwise.  And like you, I frequently had to attend Mass without my husband.  When one child acts up, you have to drag them all out.  I promise, I did have to drag them all out.  Often.  Their behavior last night is not due to naturally docile personalities, rather, it comes after years and years of fits and tantrums and walking in the back and hiding in the vestibule and retreating to a crying room and sometimes even leaving the building for a bit because I was sure they could be heard through several walls.  I’ve dealt with children with ears so sensitive they could not tolerate the loud music.  I’ve dealt with children coping poorly with a deployed father…and I was on the edge myself.  I’ve had 4 year olds who think since the 2 year old is getting away with it, they can do.  And 6 year olds who thought the same about the 4 year old’s antics.  I have brought food, books, and toys…and not brought food, books, and toys.  I have made the mistake of giving a toddler some item in the hopes it would make him a bit quieter only to have his sound effects in playing with the toy be louder than the original fussiness.  And I have let him play with that item anyway, knowing that the fit he will throw when I take it away will be even louder.  And at age 7, I have felt that every single one of them was not ready for Communion because they were so bad.  But something happens, perhaps the grace of the sacrament itself, and a squirmy 6 or 7 year old blossoms into a well-mannered 8 or 9 year old.  Most of the time at least.

I am now, finally, at the point where the majority of my children are older than your oldest girl.  I can take one (sometimes two) out of Mass when necessary, and leave the rest behind.  My oldest, like yours, will step in to discipline if necessary.  And if he did, that would cause problems for us, too.  But it’s not generally required.

There were many times that I did not think I would make it through Mass.  There were even a few Sunday mornings that started out so badly that I didn’t go.  I just did not have the strength.  And my sin, of course, was not so much in missing Mass as it was in thinking that I could ever have enough strength to do it.  I can’t do it – any of it – on my own.  Even last night, even arriving a few minutes late, right behind you, I took a moment to ask God for a good Mass, to get something out of it, to make it through without too much angst.  Sometimes the answer is yes.  But sometimes he sends me to the vestibule with a squirmy kid.

I know for certain that God gave me these seven kids, with all their unique faults, because I, with all my unique faults would somehow be the best thing for them.  I am also perfectly willing to believe that God gave me these special crosses to bear for the sole purpose of being right there in the vestibule last night when you needed a hug and an older mom to tell you it’s going to be all right, you can do it.  You can.  One day, sometimes just one hour at a time, with the grace of God.

One more thing: don’t ever take away a promised dinner out if they are too much during Saturday night Mass.  The person you punish most is yourself.  I hope you did drive-through as I suggested.  And I really hope you poured yourself a glass of wine when you got home.  It’s the best way to wash down that quarter pounder.

I’ll see you next week.  And in case I don’t, be sure that even if it’s from the vestibule, you stay for the final blessing: go in peace.