Toddler church terror

(In case you also read BCC, I appear to be on a similar wavelength as Scott B. I wrote this yesterday after church, and then saw his post in the wee hours of this morning.)

Not church - the Mall of the Emirates. But the idea is the same.
We're entering the stage of babydom where I find myself really not looking forward to going to church each week. It is seriously THE WORST. It was so bad yesterday that I found Jeremy and barked at him that we needed to leave (30 minutes early) NOW.

Church starts at Sterling's naptime. STARTS. We arrive at church and he is fussy, clingy, and unhappy. All he wants to do is go to sleep. And there are still three hours to go, plus the drive home.

Sterling cannot resist the podium stairs. He makes a beeline for them approximately 47 times during sacrament meeting. I'm just glad we have a 9-year-old daughter who is the designated baby-retriever.

So Jeremy takes him out to the foyer, but guess what? There is a grand, curving, marble staircase there, which in Sterling's book, is even BETTER than the podium stairs.

Church is during lunchtime, too, and it is an exercise in getting him, me, and couches/carpets/floors covered in food (don't worry, I clean it up). And he ends up only getting a few bites in him because there are all those staircases to escape to.

Since we have church in a villa, there are all kinds of nooks and crannies and bits and pieces for him to get into - outlets, fancy bead-trimmed window treatments, doors that open into the exact area where Sterling always wants to hang out for some reason, and the aforementioned fancy staircase. I'm not saying a purpose-built church building would be perfect, but they do tend to be more stripped down, with fewer trouble areas for little kids to get into (plus those repellent burlap walls).

Then we get home and Sterling takes a makeshift nap and is grouchy for the rest of the day. Happy Sabbath Day to us!

I just feel like yesterday was a total church FAIL, and it's not sustainable. I can't go to church every week like that - spending three hours in a place that has suddenly become completely hostile to me and my toddler. I see two solutions:

1. Leave early every week (say, after sacrament meeting), or stay home altogether. I don't see this as sustainable, either, for a few reasons. Jeremy and I both have callings throughout the three hours. Plus, church is church and I'm not going to just NOT go.

2. Hang out in the nursery room with him for the next six months, until he's old enough to go himself (at age 18 months). When I was Primary President, we sometimes had to put a stop to this because we ended up with all these adults just sitting around chatting while their too-young toddlers disrupted the lesson for the older children. But I think there's a right way to do it, and maybe I can pull it off. Maybe.

If it seems like I'm complaining, it's because I am. But I'm complaining because I care, and I want to find a workable solution. It makes me sad that church right now is not a happy place.

What are your best tips for weathering the 12- to 18-month stage? I know I've done this twice before, but due to a few factors (more sterile church buildings, better schedules, more flexible callings - sometimes in Primary where babies could just roam, etc.), I've never been in quite this deep of a pit of despair before.

Happy/Oddly Emotional Birthday, Sterling!

September 26th, outsourced