Sharing the Joys of Childhood that Can't Be Kept in a Jar

Author: Elizabeth Foss


By Elizabeth Foss

My husband, Mike, works in college athletics. During the summer he is home often and we all enjoy a relaxed schedule. Come fall, the pace becomes frantic. Mike has a fulltime job at a local university during the week and takes freelance jobs on the weekend. He works almost nonstop from September to March. Every summer, I store away the memories as if I could take them out in the autumn when the going gets rough. Every September, I discover anew that it just doesn't work that way.

When Mike travels, the hours after dinner are the most trying. I am mentally and physically tired and there are three active, noisy boys to bathe, to dress, to read to, to pray with, and to tuck in for the evening. After they are asleep, there is a kitchen to clean and laundry to fold. And there is an altogether lacking phone call to his hotel room where we try to recapture the day and fortify each other for the next. I check on the boys, knowing it won't be long until the baby awakens to be nursed again, and try not to feel lonely and overwhelmed.

As I struggle to do something that is so much simpler when my husband is at home, I think of him in a quiet hotel, after a good meal, sitting up in an unrumpled bed and reading uninterrupted until he chooses to go to sleep. There, he will sleep through the night (something I haven't done in over 40 months). Then he will awaken to meet his colleagues for a day of stimulating and creative work. The picture I have created in my mind is very appealing. If I allow myself to perpetuate it, I can be downright angry by the time he comes home. But it is not the whole picture. The brutal reality is that in order to achieve mom-at- home, dad has had to work two jobs. Mike is gone often, alone often, and it is tough.

My husband works the hours he does and travels as much as he does because he is supporting our family. He is married to me and not his job and he makes that very clear. C.S. Lewis wrote that "The homemaker has the ultimate career. All other careers exist to support this ultimate career." My husband is a firm believer in this philosophy. He does what he does for the good of his family and he is sacrificing far more than I am.

One recent Sunday, when Mike was delayed returning from a two-day trip, I took the boys, their "critter jars," and their nets down to the creek behind our house. We make this trip frequently and always return with two wet children, Michael carefully carrying minnows or tadpoles and Christian complaining that he never catches anything. Christian, at three, tromps too loudly and swings his net too wildly to succeed at the fine art of creek capture.

This day was perfect for a walk -- a clear, warm, end-of-summer day full of promise of boyish fun. We had been at the creek only a few minutes when Christian yelled "I caught you, you big fat guy. I've been looking for you all summer. Now you're mine. I'm going to take you home to my daddy." Sure enough, his net held the biggest crayfish we had seen all summer. I helped Christian put it in his jar and promised him we would show Daddy.

Christian was ecstatic. He bounced all over the creek bed and talked incessantly about how big he was and how he caught a fish. But over and over, he said, "Daddy will be so happy." As we walked home, his joy was contagious. We were all laughing and skipping and singing.

I was struck by the thought that Mike missed it all. He was somewhere between his job site and home, on the road, all alone. He didn't get to see the look of utter awe on Christian's face when he discovered that he really did catch something. He missed the clumsy fingers struggling to transfer his prize to the jar. And he missed the bouncing walk all the way home through golden woods on a perfect summer day.

But I was there. Because Mike was willing to sacrifice his weekends, I was able to be there with the boys. I made sure they had experiences like the one at the creek and I was rewarded by the joys of their childhood.

We set the jar on the front steps and the boys broke out markers and paper to make "Welcome Home" signs for the door. When Mike arrived, Christian showed him his crayfish and they went together to release him in the creek. While they were gone, I made some resolutions. Never again will I complain about being left home with the children while my husband travels. I will do everything I can to make my husband aware of the joys of our children and to share them with him, thanking him for enabling me to be there for them. Together, Mike and I have resolved to find a way to keep him home more. We are not sure where this quest will take us but we know that it is a journey we must travel , because unlike a crayfish, you just can't capture joy in a jar.

Foss is a freelance writer living in Springfield.

This article appeared in the September 21, 1995 issue of "The Arlington Catholic Herald."

Courtesy of the "Arlington Catholic Herald" diocesan newspaper of the Arlington (VA) diocese. For subscription information, call 1-800-377-0511 or write 200 North Glebe Road, Suite 607 Arlington, VA 22203.