Will I never learn? The other day, I attended a Saturday vigil Mass with five of my children and without my husband. Two of the children I brought along have a combined age under 5. I didn’t anticipate any problems. Was that a sign of cockiness or stupidity?

The ruckus began before we even settled in. Little Gabrielle parked herself on my right side. Which was exactly where littler Raphael was planning to sit. He expressed his displeasure with a weird screeching sound.

I attempted to solve the problem by scooping him onto my lap. Naturally, this move convinced Gabrielle that my lap was the place to be. There was some scuffling, some pushing and a bit of pulling. And a lot more screeching. 

An elderly gentleman sitting in front of us flashed his wife a look that could only translate as, “I told you we shouldn’t sit here!”

Over the course of the next several minutes, the two lap-dwellers wore out my patience and each other’s nerves in an astonishing variety of inventive ways. There was a skirmish over a sippy cup. One child managed to relieve the hymnal of more than a few of its pages before I intervened. The other child stuck fingers down his throat and entertained onlookers with a wild episode of dramatic gagging.

When at last I saw the cup go sailing past my head, over the pew behind us, and land with a clatter on the tile floor, I decided to cut my losses.

Leaving the older children in the pew, I gathered my two tiniest darlings and headed for the narthex at the back of the church. Once there, I plunked myself on the floor and sulked. The children stood silently, studying me in an effort to gauge exactly what kind of trouble they might be in.

But I was too sullen to punish anyone. I pretended to be focusing on the homily. But, in truth, I was focusing on poor little me. Poor little exhausted, frustrated, sick-to-death-of-it-all me.

When Raphael made a move toward running away, I did not jump up to stop him. Perplexed by my uncharacteristic behavior, he halted his escape. Cautiously, he toddled toward me. He cocked his head to one side, craned his neck to catch my eye and rested a pudgy hand against my cheek. I didn’t move. He wrapped his chubby arms around my neck and rested his head against my shoulder. I felt the warmth of tiny breathing against my skin.

“Oooooh look,” Gabrielle cooed. “He loves you, Mama. See how much he loves you.”

I blinked back tired tears, put an arm around my repentant Raphael and pulled him close. Then, as I looked toward the front of the church and caught sight of the crucifix hanging there, I was reminded of something Christ taught us about loving one another: “I have you told this so that my joy might be in you and your joy might be complete. This is my commandment: love one another as I love you” (John 15:11-12).

I examined Christ’s bleeding head, his crown of thorns, the nails in his hands and feet, and the wound in his side. It was then that I heard Gabrielle’s words repeated in my head: “He loves you. See how much he loves you.”

Yes, I could see it now. It was a humbling sight. And an awesome challenge.

Danielle Bean writes from

Belknap, New Hampshire.