What does it take to get my family back to church? Oh, yes, we've only been once or twice in the past year. Hard to believe, but that's how hard life has been in my house.
In January, the meetings times changed and I figured out a way to work things out. In my church, services are three hours long. First, there's the main worship service where everyone sits together in the chapel. That's one hour and ten minutes long. After that, the rest of the time is Sunday School classes, then what we call Relief Society for the women, Priesthood for the men, and the youth classes where the young women and young men meet separately. Meanwhile, the under 12 kids are in nursery or Primary, which is part singing/activity time and part Sunday School class time.
It's a long three hours for some, like for my older three girls who can't comprehend the majority of the speaking around them. Blossom loves the social aspect of it and thinks she understands, the result of which is that she monopolizes the discussion time in her classes with very long answers that often aren't relevant. Everyone is very kind and tolerant, though. Sissy sits with "the grin" on her face, that gives the impression of comprehension, but is really her mask that tells means the exact opposite. Jie Jie suffers. She knows she can't understand and the noise of so many voices speaking at once is cacophony to her due to her severe auditory processing disorder, which also involves impairment with instant recall and short-term memory. Apple does quite well since the teachers facilitate so much for the little ones, but when we were going before, she picked up germs every week from all the sick kids parents kept bringing which is actually what began our staying away and showed me how much it stressed us all out. Once we stopped going, the trend of constant illness ended, too. (I'd been thinking it was from speech therapy or OT, but we didn't stop going to those places and on the last day we attended church, I asked the teacher to bring her to me if anyone in the class was sick and they brought her to me.)
All this said, I devised a plan for this year. We'd attend the first hour and ten minutes one week and the last two classes the next week and keep alternating. This would keep the stress on the kids down which would, hopefully, mitigate their frustration at sitting for three hours without understanding. We all know how crabby a toddler is after church and kids with special needs can be the same, no matter what their age, and I just couldn't keep putting us through that.
I decided that this Sunday would be our trial. An old friend said they'd save us a seat and we can sit with them and they'd help me, so I figured that was Heavenly Father blessing me.
Then I realized that two of the girls needed new church shoes - my orthotic and SMO girls, of course. Thankfully, Jie Jie was easy and I found something at the third store we tried. However, no luck for Blossom, and Sissy couldn't handle being out and her behavior got challenging and we had to go home - no dinner out, just straight home before she really escalated.
Going to church was looking grim. Handling the behavior Sissy throws at me just sucks the life and energy out of me. What if she pulls something at church? Now, my mind was occupied with those thoughts that just eat at me. And, Blossom still needed shoes.
After some preparation for Sissy, we all headed out again and braved the mall. How I HATE malls! All that cheap merchandise, disposable clothes, junk food vendors everywhere, perfumes and scented stores. Just UGH! But, I didn't enjoy being around people not related to anything medical or therapeutic, for a change!
6 stores later, Blossom had shoes. The issue with her is fit and the fact that she can't describe the feel of the shoes when she's trying them on, means quite a lengthy process to determine if the shoes actually fit, or if she just likes the look of them. This can be very frustrating for me and tedious for the other girls, since they are just hanging around waiting.
Finally, new shoes in hand, we popped into a popular teen store so I can give the girls a little fun. I pointed out what other teens are wearing, what their purses are like. We looked at clothes and evaluated them for quality and modesty...
Suddenly, I heard Apple crying - her scared cry - and I turned and couldn't see her. My heart stopped beating, the air left my lungs. The crying stopped, she must have been taking a breath, and I didn't know where to look, so I yelled, "Mommy is coming, keep crying so I can find you!" The second she heard my voice, she started crying again louder than ever and a woman yelled, "Over here!" Poor Apple had wandered out of the store and into the mall about 25 feet! She was past the vendors and signs so she couldn't see us and we couldn't see her. I just about died. We've decided that we'll never forget to bring the stroller again! I am also going to make lanyards for the girls to wear when we're out in public with emergency contact info, like my cell number, their name and my name since they are all speech impaired.
The girls recovered and we ate out and finished on a high note, but I was still shaken by the two days of experiences and wondered if trying to get us to church was worth all this.
I still plan to attend church tomorrow. Sissy is going to stay at our babysitter's since I just can't risk her behavior right now. She's been better than last year by far, but she's still unpredictable and for our first day back at church, I need to be able to sit in peace and feel God's presence around me. We're even going to attempt all three hours, but I've told Jie Jie that if she needs to come to me, she can, and we can leave if she needs to.