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Thursday, October 4, 2018

What's in your Mass bag?


They're so cute! Who would guess how mischievous they can be? If you follow me on Instagram, you may have noticed me mention that taking my kids to Mass on Sunday is, ah, not exactly a breeze.

There do exist kids who are naturally well-behaved at Mass. I've met some of them; in fact, one of them is my sweet nephew, who from a young age liked to stand quietly at the edge of the pew watching everything and never making a sound. Magical.

My kids are not like that. They are rowdy, rambunctious, very loud, intensely active little monkeys. To give you just a tiny handful of examples - Frankie spent many Masses trying to escape the pew and circle around the entire church, and he succeeded more than once when I was too pregnant to chase him; he went through a phase of shouting "AHH!" at random intervals (and always when it was quiet); Kate likes to try to crawl under the pews around us to escape and run down the aisle; both children have, at times, flopped down onto the ground in front of the altar during the communion line and gone utterly limp, so that we have to carry/drag them back to the pew; and in the event that they are actually occupied looking at a book, they like to describe every picture VERY LOUDLY, just in case anyone in a five-pew radius wasn't aware there was a picture of an elephant at hand.

Listen, if you have one of those naturally well-behaved kids in Mass, just click on out of here to another blog. Because you are probably going to be shocked and horrified at how I handle Mass with children.

After 4 years of trial and error, I finally feel like I have found a system that works really well for us. I am (almost always) able to sit through all of Mass, and even pay attention to a decent part of it. So in case this might be helpful to someone else out there, here is my system. I'd love to hear what works for your family, too!

I have a special “mass bag” which is filled with toys and activities that they *only* use at church. The bag is huge. I keep it in the trunk of the car so we never forget it, and so that they don’t have access to it outside of church. Here is what is in it:

-STICKERS. The single best thing to keep them occupied for a long time. Here’s a link to the ones I buy; I’ve ordered them several times and my kids love the variety of images, taking the sticker sheets out of the little plastic covers, that they’re puffy so they’re easy for little hands to pick up, and they’re not actually very sticky so it’s no big deal to remove if they stick one on the pew or missal (as they inevitably do). This sticker set will last us 4-6 months of masses. *Important note* At the start of mass, I grab an extra copy or two of the bulletin, and give it to them to put stickers on. Then I throw it away when we leave. So we always have a fresh page for stickers and I don’t have to remember to bring one!

- Water Wow. We have several of them and the kids will play with them for a long time.

- I took a big package of animal flash cards, hole punched the corners, and put them on a binder ring. I also did the same with prayer card images of saints. The kids will look at those for a while, especially the animal one. They also enjoy looking for new prayer cards in the back of churches to add to their collection.



- Any kind of lift-the-flap book or peekaboo book. Here is one with TONS of flaps that my kids love, but any will work! This usually keeps them busy for a while.

- A mini Magnadoodle for coloring (we actually have 2 so they can each color - thanks Abuelita for giving them those!)

- Lots of picture books, mostly religious. I have A Missal for Toddlers, Our Friends the Saints, The Saving Name of God the Son, a Latin Mass cloth book, and several other Catholic board books. Those will usually interest them for a few minutes between other activities.

- A baby-doll carrier (ours was made by a friend, but you can find similar ones on Etsy!): If all else fails, I put the carrier on them with a small stuffed animal inside and tell them they have to be quiet because their baby is sleeping. Somehow this has worked really well for both my kids!

- I know bringing food to church is controversial, but desperate times call for desperate measures. I usually bring a small, non-messy snack like string cheese, along with a full bottle of water for each child. We’ve also started a tradition that they can each have a small package of gummy fruit snacks during the homily (because it keeps them quiet for a while), which is a treat they eagerly look forward to. I'm not concerned about breaking this "habit" when they are older; I was allowed to have snacks in church as a small child and very much understood why that stopped once I was old enough to receive the Eucharist, so I'm sure it will make sense to my kids as well.

I have found that toys don’t keep them occupied for very long; if I bring dolls or cars, they throw them on the ground. So I mostly stopped bringing toys, maybe a stuffed animal or something that won’t be loud if they throw it. Prayer cards used to get thrown around which is why I put them on a ring. It’s like they need something to *do* rather than just a toy; they need an activity or project, if that makes sense. I bet a Mass busy book would be amazing to have and I hope to buy or make one at some point!

I spend all of Mass doling out these activities and snacks so it’s not exactly peaceful, but at least they are mostly quiet. Since I put together these things in the Mass bag (especially the stickers!), I'm able to sit through most of Mass with minimal noise or disruption from the kids. We almost never have to take them out for being loud anymore. Now, taking them out for 37 trips to the bathroom each... that's another story!

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