I grew up practicing a different faith. As a teenager, I remember looking up at the back of the chapel and seeing a cry room on the upper level, with a large, plate-glass window. When you brought a baby or toddler to church, one not old enough to attend Sunday School or Nursery during the main church meeting, you took your baby and or toddlers to this room. You could hear the sermon and other parts of the service through a speaker system, but no one could hear you or your little ones. I also remember looking at that cry room occasionally and being a little disconcerted to see babies with red eyes, runny noses and mouths wide-open, obviously crying, but making no noise. It was the era when “The Twilight Zone” was on TV, so it seemed like it would be an interesting premise for Rod Serling to consider for the show.
I became a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when I was 19, then I got married and had my first baby–a bouncing, and very vocal boy! I’d heard that babies loved the sound of their own voices. He confirmed that…often and at high pitch, especially when I was in a place that required quiet or hushed tones. We had tones, my baby and me, but they were definitely not hushed! He never broke a crystal glass with his operatic protests and exclamations, but he did come close a couple of times. I stocked up on plastic ware, and avoided taking him to formal dinner parties.
I hadn’t paid attention to where the cry room was when I first went to my new church, or for the first few years for that matter. However, once I had a baby, I began scouring the church building for that room, and there was none to be found. I thought the architect or builder had erred, but was gently told that Mormon churches didn’t usually have cry rooms, as a matter of choice. “Whose choice?” I asked in a slightly panicked voice. “No cry room anywhere?” Answer: “No.” So where would squawking junior and I sit?
I looked at the congregation–we all attend the main service together from babes in the womb to the elderly–and discovered little babies, toddlers and children everywhere. Small fry had taken over the chapel, and they were busy being busy and proclaiming their right to be there. I had also been advised that the reason we bring our babies and wee ones to the chapel is to introduce them to it, work with them to learn to sit and listen, play quietly or read books, or with babies–sleep. I’m game for pretty much anything, and like a challenge, but I wasn’t sure I could entertain a baby for more than a few, noiseless minutes.
The rule of thumb for teachers of tiny tots is to multiply the number of years old by one minute and that’s the attention span you can expect. Well, math isn’t my best subject, and I never do mental math after 6 PM or whenever I can avoid it, but that meant that my few-weeks-old baby had zero attention span. I began to calculate how long he would sleep, how long it would take him to empty his bottle, and how long before he moved into his Viking role announcing the sailing of a ship…it was about 15 minutes, tops! I didn’t have long to wait. At about 14 minutes and counting, babykins began his aria. I also had lots of good company–there were babies hollering, bubbling noises, and crying all around me. I was not alone in my no-cry-room environment. I longed for the speaker system to kick in so I could hear what was being said or to offset the noise emanating from my sweet babe and the rest of the diaper-wearing gang.
After many years of attending Sacrament Meeting (the name of our main service) with a collective of babies, toddlers, kids, teens, and adults, I rarely hear the noises that I once thought would either bring stares powerful enough to burn holes in my being or be the reason for my being ejected forcibly from church. All three of my children learned to behave in church, some more easily and earlier than others, and I’m currently petitioning for a Purple Heart award for any parent who makes it through 70 minutes with young children, without threatening cruel and unusual punishments, pulling all his/her hair out, or avoiding the eye-ball rolling that we expect from exorcism-themed movies. I long ago stopped looking for a cry room at church, but I do smile a lot now, recognizing that sometimes there is justice in this world, as I watch my littlest grandkids in church, and I see one of my adult children searching for the “room”…