Matt Keenan: The view from the cry room reaches to infinity and beyond

12/31/1840 7:00 PM

06/03/2014 5:53 PM

Over the years church services have provided me lots of fodder for humorous reflection. Historically it’s been the antics of my own brood, but now that Lori and largely travel solo, it’s everyone else’s kids who keep me entertained.

Take, for instance, what happened two weeks ago at the 7:30 a.m. Mass at Curé of Ars.

The service was unlike anything I’ve seen before. It featured an elaborate stage production with two characters from Toy Story — Buzz Lightyear and Woody. Buzz spent most of the service flying around, confronting Woody, making peace, then confrontation, then peace again. Sort of like a parable from the New Testament as told by an astronaut.

Late arrivals to Mass, we were sitting in the cry room. The entertainment was provided by a 2-year-old boy in the pew ahead of us. The room had a window sill that served as a stage for most of the action with a curtain to put the boy in the theatrical mood. His younger brother also gave us some restrained humor —a toddler who resembled a living breathing Cabbage Patch Doll. Their parents glanced at us when we ducked in and no doubt thought the retirement bus got a late start that morning. Our venue had other age-appropriate guests as well who kept the noise level up. But none rivaled the play director.

St. Patrick’s parish, where I had my first Communion in the ’60s, had a cry room that was situated just left of the altar. It was the best seat in the church. It was a cross between a movie theater and the pediatricians’ waiting room. And it was always jammed. You could access it through a back entrance and slowly became popular with the late arrivals. Not the Keenans. We always arrived on time.

But then the size of families started to shrink and with it, the demand for the cry room. New churches constructed them in the back, and the potential for distraction grew. So did the temptation to duck in when exigent circumstances presented. And then someone came up with the idea of a nursery. Boys tend to get dumped there; girls, on the other hand, want to show off their bows for the congregation. Our kids never saw the nursery. They wanted to explore the territory below the pews.

In our last parish, St. Michael the Archangel, they converted a classroom to a cry room while the church was under construction and they had services in the gym. Shockingly, from time to time the Keenans had various emergencies that landed us there. The room consisted of a TV set on a table. Someone got the bright idea of beaming in the service by closed-circuit TV with a stationary camera and a wide angle view. Our kids loved ‘celebrating’ Mass there.

Across the top of the TV was this message: DO NOT CHANGE THE CHANNEL. That room set records for texts, tweets, smart phone surfing. And that was just the parents. Teens acted as if they were still in the basement, except the chairs were uncomfortable and made it tough to get horizontal, though many tried. It was a parish experience several levels removed from actually being there, except there was Communion and a collection plate, of course.

But the Curé play production was actually instructive. I was reminded it pays to be nice to people. Make peace. Obey your parents. And don’t try to close the curtain during the homily.

Freelancer Matt Keenan writes alternative weeks.

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