Dealing with a toddler during an adult church service

I set the post discussing Lisa Stonestreet's Tulip, Water, Ashfor the Summer Readalong to autopost on June 26, and saw it, but now it's not here or in my saved posts. Did anyone else see it? I'm scared I deleted it while clearing out spam. Going to rewrite it and will post later this week. Apologies to Lisa.

And now a question from Ruth. For those of you who aren't into worship services, think of this as being like having a kid at a fancy dinner. Also, "liturgy" = the order of the service (it stays the same every week with different Bible lessons and songs switched in), "homily" = the sermon (lesson the pastor gives, which can vary from 10 minutes to an hour, depending on the type of church you go to), "creche" = a daycare room for little kids during the service, "hymns" = songs the group sings together, "Christ candle" = a big lit candle on a stand that symbolizes the presence of Jesus at the service. Got it? Let's go:

"I wonder if you or your readers have any tips to offer;  My baby is now a curious, walking, noisy 16 month old... lots of fun... until one 1 1/2 hour slot on a Sunday morning. 

Our church service has a congregation of about 40, and there are 6 children under the age of 14, and mine is by far the youngest.  For the older children there is a programme that runs in parallel with the homily but there is not a creche for younger kids (obviously because there has been no demand).  

Although our church is kind of old-school in its worship and liturgy, with lots of quiet and candles and standing and singing and kneeling, the culture is so open and gracious.  That is to say, there are always at least a couple of people who will comment to me afterwards that they enjoy hearing my boy "singing" and that I should not take him out when he is noisy--even on my worst days this has been said to me, so I am very grateful.  

I believe that children only learn how to be in church by being in church (although missing the homily is no big tragedy, in my mind).  And that little bodies were not designed to be still or quiet for long periods of time.  More and more it feels like my head is going to explode as my partner or I try to keep my son from shouting over the top of the priest or from pulling the Christ candle down on himself.  We try to "dance" with him during the hymns, and indeed much of our liturgy is sung (and there is "action" that he can participate in), so that makes it a little easier.  But there is alllllllllllll that quiet prayer time and the homily and the readings, and in spite of the goodwill of those around me, I find it less than replenishing sitting there with my teeth clenched, anticipating my boy's next move.

I guess what I would like to know is what can I fairly expect from my toddler?  (I haven't really been to a church with kids before so I don't know how others behave).  What are some more ways that I can help him to participate meaningfully in the service?  What kind of distractions do others use during quiet times?  How do other faith communities incorporate their young children into their worship?  Will I ever again feel like mass is a refreshing part of my week?  I also feel like a big part of this is about the stresses of parenting in public and the real+perceived judgement of those around me."

When my older son was around that age, he was veeery into vehicles of all sorts, and had a toy truck that he brought everywhere. He also couldn't say the TR sound. So he spent a few months in the adult church service occasionally yelling out "fuck! fuck!" excitedly. I knew I was at the right church because the pastor and everyone else (except for one sour-faced guy) laughed every time and then slipped my son cookies after the service.

So, yes. There are some known knowns here:

1. You want your son to learn to be in church. (Much like we all want our kids to learn to do the adult activities we do, like going to restaurants.)

2. The only way for him to learn this is to do it.

3. Doing it at this stage is extraordinarily difficult because 16-month-olds just can't sit still, and there's a lot of sitting still time in church.

4. Your son is normal.

5. It's upsetting to you.

6. The rest of the congregation aren't bothered by your son and are going out of their way to tell you how glad they are that he's there.

The upshot is that it's all good for your son, who is learning to do the things and go the places that will make him a participating adult. It's all good for the people in your church, who enjoy having your son there, and understand that he's a toddler. But it's not good for you, because it's taking a time that's supposed to be a time of rest, contemplation, and renewal, and making it an obstacle course that exhausts and demoralizes you.

I sometimes skipped church because I just couldn't deal with it that day. It felt like I needed help but no one knew how to give it to me.

But here's another known that's unknown to you, but known to some of the rest of us: It does get better. As your son grows and matures and develops new skills, he'll be less of a whirling dervish burden during the mass and more of an annoying sidekick. And then one day you'll realize that he's quietly coloring during the homily and singing along to the liturgy and you haven't felt that anxious feeling in church in weeks and how did it happen? But it does.

I would love some stories of toddlers in places that are largely adult space doing things that mortified you at the time but are now making you laugh. And some survival stories about bringing your kids into situations they needed to grow into, like houses of worship or restaurants.