Scary stories from a lovely place
There’s nothing more annoying than a crying baby, right? The piercing, shrill scream sends shivers up my spine. Especially when it goes on and on, increasing in volume and pitch. And what’s the mother doing to stop it? Not much usually. Holding it. Stroking it. Bouncing it around. Trying to pacify the cries with some mechanism. Ignoring it. Trying to, psychologically, go to her safe place. At least this is what it can look like to an outside eye.
I was reading an article in the newspaper yesterday about flying with children and it listed being seated near a screaming baby as a traveler’s worst nightmare – not losing bags or crashing to the ground in a million burning and broken pieces.
Before I had a boisterous baby I don’t remember being too concerned about the noise they made. When I waited in check-in lines at the airport I would hope not to be seated right near annoying children, but it wasn’t my worst nightmare. Once I was on an international flight and there was a baby a few rows in front of me who screamed and cried for most of the 15 hour journey. I remember being a little perturbed, but then as I watched the diligent parents take turns standing and holding the child, having to forgo any participation in in-flight entertainment or the free alcohol, I felt more sorry for them than myself.
I’m starting to feel a bit suspicious that this worst nightmare stuff, this annoyance at the noise baby’s make is perhaps unfair. I can think of lots of things that have annoyed me on flights before. I think my worst nightmare is sitting next to someone fat and having to shuffle past them to get to the toilet. Or having to listen to other people’s inane conversations, or snoring or annoying cackle as they watch the movies. I wonder if baby’s are used as a scapegoat while these aspects of human behaviour are brushed over.
Another realm of life where a baby’s noise consumes all other potential annoying characteristics is in church. Again, before I was a parent I don’t remember caring too much if a baby was crying during the service. But I know others find them very trying. Usually a baby is decried as being a distraction during church, hence the need for a ‘cry room’, which in itself is an unfortunate name. Constant crying can certainly be distracting. But so is constant whispering, kids playing, an awkward service leader, unfriendly people, a boring preacher, a cold building or the tempting outside scene of a blue sky and brilliant sunshine. But we don’t hurry to solve these problems in the church or ourselves, rather we just want to quieten the baby and put it and the mother out.
Stephen and I have been struggling with this for most of the year. Silas is no longer the angel baby who sleeps through church. Our old church in South Africa didn’t have a ‘cry room’, though they think they do. It’s a cold room, totally separate from the church service, with a lone, dirty couch. I usually played with Silas outside, which was glorious on a sunny day, but not why I came to church. I could sit on an old couch in a cold room at home. But there were constant announcements about using the ‘cry room’ if you had a child as well as suggestions from people, well-intended no doubt, that I go outside with Silas.
As an aside, I have wondered if there was something which routinely stopped men from hearing the sermon and extricated them from church would that be encouraged or would a solution be found so they could continue to be a part of the teaching?
So we started going to another church. It too doesn’t have an adequate ‘cry room’. But there is no pressure to take a noisy baby for a walk outside, or to the back of the church. When you become a parent it’s hard enough to participate in church the way you could previously without guilt from the front. A relaxed, non-pressure environment helps.
When a baby is crying in public there’s usually someone who’s more annoyed than those in the general vicinity. The child’s parent is probably operating on minimal sleep and maximum frustration while trying to muster previously untapped depths of patience and kindness. Perhaps they could just be left alone to care for the kid without having to apologise for other people’s annoyance.