SHARING THE JOYS OF CHILDHOOD THAT CAN'T BE KEPT IN A JAR
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.