I shake my head and laugh quietly to myself watching our sons, now grown, willingly attend Sunday Mass. Believe me, that wasn't always the case.

When the boys were little, we were regular fixtures up in the balcony at 10:30 a.m. Mass. I packed Cheerios and books for nourishment and quiet entertainment.

Of course, the boys begged me to bring the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles figures, but I refused. Playing with those guys involved kicking, punching and numerous sound effects. Our pastor welcomed everybody, but I just didn't think the turtles were appropriate.

We had a routine that worked. My husband, Mike, left the house at 9:20 a.m. to arrive one hour early to practice with the folk group. As soon as he walked out the door, I started getting the boys cleaned up and dressed.

By 10:15, we were out the door - and, believe it or not, on time for Mass most weeks.

In the early years, people from our parish used to wonder, "Who is that lady with all those boys and where is her husband?" They thought I was brave to bring four mischievous little boys to church by myself.

I didn't think much of it; I just kept the kids a few feet from the balcony ledge, attempted to hear the sermon and pretended not to notice what they were doing as long as they were quiet.

The hard part came when the boys became teenagers. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were long gone and Cheerios were no longer a satisfying snack. Sunday mornings were now created for sleeping in and playing computer games.

To get ready for Mass, I'd first try bribing them with pancakes. When that didn't work, I followed with threats of grounding. Let's just say, from 9:20 a.m. when Mike walked out the door until we arrived at Mass, it was not pretty.

Seven years ago, after our second-oldest went away to college, I was fed up with our "pre-Mass routine" and felt desperate to find an alternative.

One Sunday morning, after spending an hour arguing with our two younger boys to get ready for Mass, I yelled in frustration, "If you want to live in this house, you have to go to church once a week! I don't care where you go or what day you go, but you must go!"

To my surprise, they found a church - St. Francis Chapel on Wolf Road in Colonie - and they began willingly going to the 5:10 p.m. Mass on Thursday or Friday! Mike and I enjoy daily Mass, so we went with them.

The chapel is unique. As soon as I walk through the door, the reverence is palpable and I always feel I should remove my hat even though I am not wearing one.

In regard to daily Mass in lieu of Sunday Mass, my dad recently said to me, "So, Berni, you changed the rules." I had no interest in changing the "rules" - I simply wanted our boys to stop once a week and be reminded that there is a God who is with us and for us. I know it wasn't perfect, but it seems to have worked...at least for now.

(Bernadette Bonanno attends Mass at St. Mary's parish in Albany.)