This week, while looking back over some old writing, I dug up a selection reads like a journal from a distant phase of the family life-cycle when all three kids lived at home. While reading it, it occurred to me that, for the last three weeks, I have been inadvertently hopscotching around the family life-cycle. Two weeks ago, Sunday Morning Café reflected upon the very last section of the that cycle. It explored the theme of impermanence through the lens of my dad’s death. Last week we visited the very beginnings of a newly forming family. This week, come with me as we explore the booming, banging, buzzing landscape where two life-cycle phases blend together: “Families with School-aged Children,” and “Families with Adolesents (Carter & McGoldrick, The Changing Family Life Cycle).
At 6:45am, my eyes blinked open with the immediate, and alarming recognition that I had awoken a full hour behind schedule. Normally, I can trust the rhythms knit into my body to deliver a prompt wake up call. Last night, those rhythms were disrupted by a host of cold symptoms that robbed me of two hours sleep. It took Lisa to pull me out of the Elysian Fields to give her a hand with our morning tasks. Fortunately her wake-u call came with a bedside handful of cold medications, and a cup of coffee. Together, serenaded by our youngest daughter’s violin practice, we worked frenetically to get breakfasts, lunches, and children out the door.
Our first pre-work stop involved a before-school parent-teacher’s conference at Annalise’s high school. Fortunately, the conference was as positive as a second cup of coffee for me. Before we parted ways, Lisa and I traded administrative information back and forth, wished each other well, and hugged our goodbye in the parking lot. As I pulled out of the school driveway, a well-dressed man in a very nice car, appeared to be amused by my makeshift baby-blanket napkin tucked into my neck to protect my tie. With an already half eaten banana in hand, I waved, “Good Day” to him, as I proceeded to eat my time-saving-mobile breakfast the same way I had eaten it every day for the previous seventeen years.
Once at work, I settled into my routine of consecutive hourly appointments until it was time to leave at 7:00pm. When I got home, I discovered that Lisa had cleaved her workday in two so that she could schlep John Harry to soccer practice, get everybody fed, and start the Halloween pumpkin carving process. As I stepped through the door, she handed off the squash-sculpting tools, donned her work clothes, and headed back out to finish up the tasks that awaited her back at the office.
After gutting two pumpkins, and carving a third, I got my youngest settled into bed, said prayers with her, and came back downstairs to get some writing done in anticipation of a morning deadline. As I sat at thekeyboard, I was aware of the several calls cued up in my voicemail that would have to wait for a return tomorrow. As I typed the last paragraph, I recalled that dishes from two meals would have to be washed and dried. I hoped to be done in time for Lisa’s returnhome around 11:00pm, so that I could gulp a vile of green cold medicine, and lay my body down next to her, and get caught up on the sleep I missed the nightbefore….
This Sunday, many mainline Christian denominations will contemplate readings that cut to the heart of both Judaism and Christianity (Deuteronomy 6: 2-6; Mark 12: 28b-34). In them, the reader is admonished to love God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength and to reflect that love in care for the neighbor. For my family, the key to living out the Shema through the crush of activities had everything to do with rituals. On the way to school, we would pray from youngest to oldest sharing our joys and challenges with God. Our “Morning Offering” ended the same way everyday. One of the kids would conclude: “God, give us eyes to see you more clearly, a heart to love you more dearly, and the will to follow you more nearly, each and every day until that day when we’re reunited with one another and united with you forever.” Frequently, those themes would be revisited during dinner prayer when we would give thanks for the day’s graces. Bedtime prayer featured child-specific lullabies’ with explicit spiritual themes. A parental prayer of blessing would begin with a blessing of their mind, and conclude with a blessing of their feet. Vacations large and small have always concluded the same way. We circle up after the camp site is taken down, or on the waterfront of a cabin, and pray “popcorn style.” In other words, we free associate moments of the vacation that were fun, enjoyable, or meaningful, in no particular order. This usually leads to laughter and a deeper appreciation of our time together. When a child or parent has a particularly important or weighty event, we gather around that person, place hands on them, and pray a prayer of blessing over them.
My hope is that in sharing this catalogue of ritual ideas, perhaps a newly forming family, like my daughter, or an established family with children at home can contemplate what a whole-hearted life could look like for them. As vaccines and boosters contain the pandemic more and more, life will return to the usual frenzy for people. An intentional, ritualized set of practices can ensure that spirituality does not fall by the wayside.