Little Ones

As we walked across the parking lot I reached for Jude’s hand. I was secretly relieved when he reached out and grabbed mine back. At the ripe old age of six and a half, he did not always want to hold my hand. It was a bittersweet development when a little boy hits the stage where he looked at my outstretched arm and shook his head no, and I knew he wasn’t the one who needed to hang on any longer.

As we entered the building wearing our masks, someone stood there ready to take our temperatures. It was the first time we had been back in our own church on a Sunday morning since the pandemic had arrived unwelcomed and brought all our lives to a grinding halt. Things were different now. We were greeted and ushered to an area reserved for families, with alternating pews blocked off so families could sit together.

As we filed into the row, filling it from end to end, I glanced at the alternating rows of families behind us. As I caught the eyes of the other moms and dads, we all nodded. I smiled at them but realized too late that they could not see it behind my mask. Oh well. It was nice to see the whole side of the church with families in it, even if we were all socially distanced. Our side held several families with children in tow.

I entered the pew first, glancing down our row. We had simply entered in the order we had walked into the sanctuary. It turned out that we did the parent-bookend thing where an adult sits on each end to sandwich in the children. We used to do that when the boys were younger. It is indeed a tried and true method of child containment. Back when we had a full crew of little guys, they would sometimes try to escape out the ends. It was no longer necessary for us to sit like that and it amused me that we were doing it today. None of the boys were “runners” any longer.

As the service continued, I rested my arm on the back of the pew and gave Oliver a half hug. He looked up, smiling at me with his big blue eyes. Periodically the children in the rows behind us made noise. There was shuffling, a little crying and an occasional startling noise. Oliver started to turn his head to look and I tapped his shoulder to turn around. The kindest thing you can do for a family with small children is simply let them be. The last thing they needed was startled church members turning to stare.

I remembered our decade of wiggly boys in church. Oh, how stressed I was! I had been so worried we were going to ruin someone else’s experience. We took turns taking out babies that cried. I kept my bag stocked with gum for ones old enough to chew it, pens, and paper to draw on. We never considered not bringing them in there with us, even when we were the recipients of occasional unpleasant reactions from others. This place was for them too, and if we kept taking them out of there, how would they ever know that?

I remembered wondering what was the point? I was so distracted the entire time. As I sat in the pew this time, looking down my row of big kids, I knew. We never would have gotten here without that decade. Every time anyone commented in recent years how good the boys were in church, I always thought of those years with the eyes on us and the ears trained to hear the noises coming from our row.

I hoped the families of the young wiggly ones behind us did not give up. The payoff was coming, and it would be here before they even knew it. I would never be the one to tell them to savor those days, though, because I remembered those days were hard and exhausting. Such admonitions always annoyed me.

I glanced to my right and looked up at the heads in my row that now sat taller than mine. On second thought, I might tell them to savor the hand holding.

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