Bread and Whining - doing church with three kids in tow.

How do they do it-those lovely unflustered ladies, who arrive well-dressed and serene first thing on Sunday mornings!? How in years past I watched in envy as their little ducks come in, all fluffed up and bright, following Daddy duck and Mummy duck to fill up a row - quite near the front- with never a quack. I mull their great achievements as we arrive (- do they beat them? do they bribe them? do they practise all week?) 

{mosimage} We get in, officially past starting time- leaving one of our cygnets still skulking in the toilet, because she just "can't see the point in walking to church again- even though it does make (other) people fit!" Middle cygnet then becomes distraught at having mislaid the top trumps swaps he was gathering all week, for the post communion top trumps gathering (-left of the back pews- entry by password only.) Finally, baby cygnet is just in, let's say, a very vocal mood. "Daddy!" he repeats 20 times to everyone who smiles and waves as the pram comes to rest.

We settle down to multi-tasking i.e. giving to God, appreciating fellowship, growing, teaching, resting and already resorting to bribes from the obligatory ‘things to do during sermons' bag. Supplies will run out at this rate. Saved by the bell we get to turn and face the back, which at least means different people to look at. Doing well...keep going! Then just as the vicar gets up to speak, there's a timely "OH Oh" in cartoon tones, which emanates from the pram. Baby cygnet has dropped the beaker (again) but it fetched a great reaction this time, as three adults all scrabbled to be the first to collect it from under the pew. "Juice" he begins..." Juice, juice, juice, juice!" he says with progressively increasing volume.

Trying to wipe his nose, quiet him down, juggle the order of service and catch my husband's eye, I realise that he's dropped the beaker, primarily because it's empty and also because he wants a refill. (-Efficient business strategy there.) However, I have not only left the pre-prepared ‘other beaker' on the radiator by the front door at home, but having already gulped down the first, (him- not me- and only the contents, not the actual beaker-) it will (undoubtedly) soon be time for his nappy change. I sit the next part out and juggle Postman Pat as he may produce less noise than the book full of Noah's ark animals, which always gets the sound effects. They say the art of comedy is in the timing, and yes, as if by magic, during the lead-in to the third verse we hear "Poo, Mummy!". "Mummy, bum!" "Mummy, poo!" as if my name will forever be intrinsically linked with that word. Yes it can be "Daddy, duck!" or "Daddy, book!" or even "Daddy, more!" but somehow the big satisfied smile of a filled nappy is oft accompanied by the dulcet tones of "Mummy, poo!". Keeps me humble, I guess.

{mosimage} Pushing the push chair with its back wheel squeak we exit back left and whilst we are juggling with changing mat, toddler and wipes, we get the completely predictable visit of Top trumps swapper to "just see what we were doing". Within seconds it's followed by sulky pre-teen asking if I ‘need help'. This can otherwise be interpreted as, "any chance of escape is better than none." Sensing the chance to put her off teenage pregnancy for life, I ask her to hold his legs as he swivels around wiping his dirty bottom everywhere. She does and then drops his legs in disgust. My bark brings tears to her eyes, as we both realise that he's heading for the door without a nappy on. We regain control, have a chat and note that we've missed the sermon and it's time for communion. Things can only get better??!! At least I can stop chaining him to the pram and she's stopped sulking. Good job cygnets grow into beautiful swans... 

By Ruth Clay