Hi Patricia! I’m so glad to hear you moved to town. I look forward to meeting you when I come home next week; the kids and I have been visiting my parents in Ohio. Did you know Ellen, the choir director at your first parish? She’s my cousin!
Father Theodore mentioned that you were new to Orthodoxy and that you have some worries about “corralling” your kids single-handedly during church. I have five under the age of six, so I thought I’d send you a quick email with a few of the things I’ve learned.
First of all, know that everybody in our parish is pretty kid-friendly. Nobody’s going to give you a death glare if the baby cries or your toddler throws a one-man rodeo. They’ve been putting up with my little monsters for the last six years.
Neo (Nehemiah, but I can’t bring myself to call him that) turns six next month. He’s on self-declared candle patrol. It was getting ridiculous for a while there—he and the other kids in the parish started blowing out 6″ candles! I finally made him measure each one against his thumb before he blows them out, and whenever he misbehaves he loses his candle privileges.
Mariel (St. Mary of Egypt, but altered to honor my aunt) is four now, and she’s quite the little mama. My problem with her is she bosses the other children when I’m not looking, and then they get into a tiff. And then someone gets hit with a Psalter. So I try to give her a specific task, like opening the door for Father when he’s censing. The choir director’s been letting her sing with them lately, which has been wonderful—she’s supervised, participating, and out of trouble! At least she’s not baptizing her baby dolls in the font in the narthex.
The twins, Elijah and Christopher (the prophet and the great), are almost two. They’ve decided the church is their playground, so I’ve started dressing them in suits on Sundays. There’s only so much mischief they can get into when they can’t squat or crawl and they can’t lift their arms past their shoulders. Luckily they’re cute, so the teenagers fight over who gets to hold them. When they won’t listen to the teens I make them sit by my feet and look at “books” I made out of laminated paper icons. They’ll get bored and try to run off, but I snag them. Eventually they give up and stay put, and they’ve been fighting me less lately. Perseverance does win, as long as you have more than they do. I try to take them outside to run around (sans suit jackets) at least once a service. Otherwise they get creative, and then I’m really in trouble.
And the baby is Elspeth (St. Elizabeth). She’s the easiest to get help with—everyone wants to hold her—but the least willing to be held by anyone but me. She’s four months now, and she fusses unless I’m holding her or wearing her in a sling. Once I managed to fool her by spritzing Hedda Walker with my perfume and handing over Elsie while she was sleeping. It was the first time I could make a metania during Liturgy in I’m not going to think about how many years.
It was hard at first, caring for all of them by myself. But it got a lot easier once I realized the other adults were usually willing to help out. Jan Parker and Carol Stanton are godsends; you’ll learn to love them. And Beth Adams has four of her own, so she doesn’t hesitate to correct mine when they’re climbing the Bishop’s seat or fencing with lit candles.
I enjoy Father’s homilies, but I’ve asked him to keep them under forty minutes. With a pile of children on my lap, my legs start to go numb after the first half hour. Sometimes I snag a chair in self-defense. If I’m not at ground level it usually limits them to one or two on me at a time.
I’ve given up on crossing myself and all the kids in between every “Lord have mercy” of the litanies. I wear the baby in a sling, so she and I are taken care of, and I cross the twins if they’re nearby, but I just remind the older two before every service. I take the whole kit and kaboodle up to venerate icons together and for Communion, partly so I make sure they do it respectfully but partly so they don’t rush to the head of the line. Elijah cut off a visiting hieromonk once; that was embarrassing.
Oh, and I quickly got used to eating prosphora crumbs off their clothes, hair, faces, and even the floor. (And, on one memorable occasion, the bishop’s hat. I have no idea how Neo did that.)
Don’t worry too much when they act out. As dear old Peter Thornberry said when Neo and Christopher knocked over the icon of St. Barbara for the third time that day, “Don’t worry, she’s been through worse.” It’s important that they spend time in church, even if they spend it plotting to destroy their mothers’ tempers. They absorb something eventually, I swear.
And lastly, I pay the neighbor lady to watch television while the kids sleep for an hour on Saturday nights. Going to Vespers alone saves my sanity.
Patricia, as soon as I’m back I’d love to have you over for tea and a playdate. We Orthodox mamas have to stick together!
Love in Christ,
This report filed by terce reporter Brigid Strait.