Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The rhythm of (family) life

Psalm 33:13-15 (NIV)

From heaven the Lord looks down
   and sees all mankind;
from his dwelling place he watches
   all who live on Earth—
he who forms the hearts of all,
   who considers everything they do.
I made it home today, safe and sound. And while a series of travel difficulties involving river, rail and air soured my mood off and on, I was certainly thrilled to be back home. Kristie had a business obligation this evening and we passed entering and exiting the subdivision. My mom was here with the boys, and everyone had eaten dinner and was in a good mood. Jack was engrossed in the Wii (which apparently moved to the living room soon after I left Sunday), but Max and Charlie greeted me at the door, which is always a nice treat. Charlie especially was full of love and affection and thankfully skipped over acting weird because I was gone for so long.

A few hours later when I was enforcing the beginning of bedtime, Jack — showing his penchant for knowing how to say just the right thing at just the right time — dropped a sharp, “I like Mom better.” He hit me with the same sentiment after everyone got out of the tub (around 9 p.m. when there’s a professed 8:30 bedtime) when I told him he would be going straight to bed and not back downstairs for more Wii. “Mom let us do it,” he protested. So naturally I retorted with my go-to, “Mom’s not here right now.” We are highly sophisticated debaters.

I’ve had much worse returns from much shorter trips. I was actually pretty impressed with the respect and maturity of all parties when I got home tonight, and I think full credit for that goes to Kristie for basically putting on a cape and playing supermom in my absence. She took all three kids to the pool by herself for the first time Monday, and it went well enough they did it again Tuesday. They all went to the grocery store together. Today she packed them all in the minivan and met up with friends for an IKEA trip. And if you’ve ever been to any IKEA with any children you know what kind of accomplishment we’re discussing. I would rather let Max practice amateur dentistry on me than take all three kids to IKEA by myself.

Part of me is worried more about tomorrow and the next day as we get back into a more regular routine, but then I realize regular is out the window. Thursday is Jack’s last day of Summer Wonders, which means he’s essentially unprogrammed until school starts four weeks from today. We have some birthday parties and family cookouts and a couple of Scouting events over the next few weeks, but nothing resembling regularity. Jack usually gets about a week on his own with Kristie’s parents in late July/early August, and sometimes Kristie takes the whole brood out there for a few days.

It’s all part of the fun as summer winds down, but it’s anything but routine. And there will be days where nothing is planned, or when weather takes away the possibility of the pool or even riding bikes around the cul-de-sac. I will be enjoying my one month of the year when I can leave for work without taking Jack to school or the bus stop, and doing so guiltily because I know how difficult it can be to keep all three boys fed, clean, amused and uninjured hour after hour and day after day. And when I say, “I know,” it’s not from the actual experience of doing so, because Kristie’s the one who did it last August, too. I’ve never had that much solo parenting time, except for one week the summer Jack was two. I’m not saying I couldn’t do it if I had to (early on I several times told Kristie I would be the stay-at-home parent if she wanted to pursue her career), only that I realize appreciating the challenge and surviving it firsthand are two very different beasts.

I’m not trying to complain, merely reflect. There are rhythms to life, both in the natural world and the human element, including family units. Though things evolve as the children grow and change, it is somewhat comforting to observe how certain benchmarks have remained constant since Jack started preschool all those years ago. It is this kind of regularity that when absent, some day if and when the kids grow up and move out, will make me excessively nostalgic.

I like to say having children changed who I was, that being a parent is my prime identity. And while that is true in a larger sense, the reality is it took a few years to slowly evolve to the present, where my personal schedule is secondary to what the kids need. I cling to this familiarity for a variety of reasons. It is comforting to know it will continue for many, many years, even as I acknowledge it will get far more hectic (such as when we have three boys in three different school buildings). Of all the things for me to worry about, being an empty nester ranks somewhere beneath a plague of locusts and finding the right pair of suspenders.

But I think it’s important to soak in the everyday aspects of life. Sure it’s a big deal to send your kid off to kindergarten for the first time. But it’s the regularity of getting up every day, packing a lunch and walking to the bus stop that represents the rhythm of life, establishing those deep-seated patterns that, before I know it, will encapsulate an entire decade of my existence.

To some folks, this kind of pattern represents monotony and boredom, the loss of freedom those single folks or DINK couples (dual income, no kids) fear more than anything. But to me it is comfort in the truest sense of the word, a God-given privilege to be right where I am supposed to be, living the life I was called to live. I am fond of saying my life is elegant in it simplicity, and to me there’s no better illustration than being a willing servant to the routine responsibilities of raising children.

A prayer for July 18:

Lord, I thank you for my life. I praise you for the simple gift of being alive, and I am ever grateful for the life you have called me to live as a husband and father. Everywhere I turn there is comfort and familiarity, and I realize such security is a blessing not to be taken for granted. I pray that I may continue to discern your will for me, and promise to live and love in active appreciation for all you have given me. Amen.

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