Sunday, July 15, 2012

The business trip begins

Acts 21:1-8 (NIV)

After we had torn ourselves away from them, we put out to sea and sailed straight to Kos. The next day we went to Rhodes and from there to Patara. We found a ship crossing over to Phoenicia, went on board and set sail. After sighting Cyprus and passing to the south of it, we sailed on to Syria. We landed at Tyre, where our ship was to unload its cargo.After sighting Cyprus and passing to the south of it, we sailed on to Syria. We landed at Tyre, where our ship was to unload its cargo. We sought out the disciples there and stayed with them seven days. Through the Spirit they urged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem. When it was time to leave, we left and continued on our way. All of them, including wives and children, accompanied us out of the city, and there on the beach we knelt to pray. After saying goodbye to each other, we went aboard the ship, and they returned home.

We continued our voyage from Tyre and landed at Ptolemais, where we greeted the brothers and sisters and stayed with them for a day. Leaving the next day, we reached Caesarea and stayed at the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the Seven.
I’m writing this post from an airplane, high above whatever part of America you’re high above about 90 minutes into a flight from Chicago to Portland. Kristie and the boys are home in Illinois. My dad and I will be gone for about three days for a two-day trade show. The extra is owed to the peculiar challenges of trying to fly from west to east on a weekday afternoon. Still, I think we have an easier travel schedule than Paul and his road buddies as detailed in the passage from today’s lectionary.

But what our schedule means, from a practical family standpoint, is Kristie has three nights during which she will have to bathe and tuck in all three boys and three mornings during which she’ll have to drive Jack to his summer program at school. That’s been my job the last several weeks and nearly every day we’ve gotten out of the house before anyone else wakes up. If we do see one of the other three, it’s almost always Max, and once you feed him he’s pretty self sufficient.

So bedtime probably will be rough, followed by morning starting earlier than Kristie would prefer (including the very real possibility of waking a sleeping baby, which we otherwise avoid at nearly all costs). Then, of course, the next night’s bedtime probably will be rough owing to the communal lack of sleep. Lather, rinse and repeat until Wednesday. Provided our return flight is on time (as our departing flight was decidedly not…) I’ll get home right about when Kristie needs to leave for a presentation in support of her cloth diaper business. I, of course, will be fresh as a daisy owing to a full day of travel, and the children will be on their best behavior simply out of glee at being reunited with their loving father. Or something like that.

The good news is I don’t travel all that often. I had a Saturday to Tuesday trip to San Diego in April. Before that I think my last trip was this time last year. And while two or three overnight trips a year is a dramatic increase compared to my years in full-time newspaper work, it remains a strain. Anytime you upset the balance of normal — especially with young children — you do so with a deep breath and a hope the disruptive effects will be minimal. Even the positive alterations, such as the recent visit from Kristie’s mom, disrupt the routine. We’re not nearly as regimented as a good deal of parents (especially parents with only one very young child), but we are intimately acquainted with the benefits of a reliable schedule for the children.

Most adults, whether aware of the reality or not, operate better under the framework of a routine. Certainly there’s something to be said for flexibility, adaptability and plain ol’ rolling with the punches. But consider — if you’re a working sort with a regular job who eats lunch about the same time every weekday, how does Saturday go if you don’t get to that midday meal around the same time as you would on a Tuesday or Friday?

One thing I’ve noticed about parenting, and specifically being responsible for very young children, is how easy it is for adults to ignore in their own life the kind of things they would never overlook with children. I can tell straight away if one of my children got enough sleep the night before. When I get home form work at 5:30 and the kids haven’t eat dinner yet, I have a pretty good guess what kind of evening lies in store. Yet how many times do I find myself staying up past midnight to finish watching a TV show or putting off lunch because I really ought to mow the lawn first. I have more capacity to handle unpredictability than the kids, but why do I so willingly overlook my own basic needs when I would never allow the children to do the same?

In some sort of twisted logic, I tell myself I’m doing it for the kids. Staying up late to watch TV is one thing, but if I’m folding laundry so everyone has clean clothes for the next day? Well, that’s part of my job as dad. What I really owe them is the best version of me — the one that’s well rested (and well fed!), content with life choices and in the right frame of mind to be the type of parent they deserve. This may be the world’s strongest example of easier said than done, but I do think I would be doing the entire family a favor if I really looked at my job as parent as my complete identity. So by extension, all of my choices could be viewed through that lens.

I might think of my exercise schedule as something that affects only me. But if I step back, I can see how it is just a component of the bigger picture. If I eat foods that make me feel less than my best, and that manifests itself in inattentive parenting or a short temper or what have you, well, what’s the point? Some parents claim they’re too busy dealing with the kids to make their own doctor or dentist appointments. But what good is a parent with a nagging injury or cruising down the road toward obesity or diabetes?

There are times to make sacrifices for kids, and there are times to put an adult’s needs first because the alternative will undercut the best interests of the entire family. I often wish I had a handy guide to always help me tell the difference, but nothing’s that easy. One option? Call my mom. After all, Kristie always seems to know what’s best for our kids. I bet my mom has an idea what might be best for me. And even if she doesn’t, I bet she’d be honored to be asked.

The other option — and one my mother also would endorse? Take it to the Lord in prayer.

A prayer for July 15:

Lord, I thank you for safe travels. During my absence, I pray you help Kristie find the strength, patience and endurance required to be a short-term solo parent. When I return, please help me be ever aware of the needs of my children, and also to be attentive to what my own body, mind and spirit need to be fully functioning, that I may offer my best self to my family and also present my utmost to you, the giver of all good things. Amen.

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