This is something I wrote in January 2009, when we had only seven children, and our then-youngest was still a babe in arms.
This past Sunday, it was me and five kids for most of Mass. There were the usual challenges--bickering, whispering, little ones who won't hold still. Most Sundays there's at least one protracted instance in which I, near tears, wonder why I even bother coming, and this one was no exception. The people behind us were mostly polite--which is to say, they were quiet so I couldn't tell for sure if they were sniggering at me and my brood, and they put on very convincing smiles at the sign of peace. Then, at the Agnus Dei, my husband slipped into the empty space in the pew in front of us. He had been in the back of the church, or in and out of it, with the baby and the toddler for all of Mass up to this point. All of our little clan greeted him--I was embarrassed by the minor fuss, but I was glad to see him. He handed me the baby, and I heard someone behind me whisper incredulously, "They have more?" That was the last I saw of them--I avoided looking at them when we processed for communion, and when we took our seats again they were gone. [My husband didn't know anything of this until afterward--when I told him, he asked me if I could recognize them if I saw them again. Blessedly, for both of us, I think, I'm pretty sure I couldn't.]
We stopped at the store afterward to get some things for dinner. I was still a little tense, and feeling guilty for not preparing better and thus making this trip necessary. The first person I saw was a man who sometimes serves as an usher at our church. He evidently arrived at the same time we did. He knows us well by sight--I think all the ushers do--although we keep to ourselves and, well, it's a big parish--we don't know many names. As soon as he recognized me, he smiled and shook my hand. He didn't see all of my family at Mass, he said. I explained where my husband was.
"You and your family are such a joy to watch," he said, remarking about how my husband and I help each other with the little ones, how the older ones help us. It's rare to see a family like ours, he said. Don't I know it, I thought. Then he said, "I love seeing you guys at Mass, it's like a really good cartoon after a really good movie."
I had to laugh, rather sardonically at his choice of words, but I appreciated it then and even more now. It's always the days we need it most that God sends someone to share his perception of our lives when our own needs a little lift.