We’ve been in South Bend for two weeks and the question we are always asked is this: “How is it going getting settled in?”
There are a thousand small tasks that need to get done before our life as a family is completely settled in. And we’ll get to them all, eventually. Some are more important than others—beds need to be assembled first, for example. Children need those for sleeping. Unpacking kitchen things is important, too, because it is good to eat every now and again.
The really, really important stuff has nothing to do with taking things out of boxes, however. The important part of settling in, and the most difficult, is simply establishing a new rhythm of life. In that area, everything is up in the air.
Simon is experiencing one small example of this new rhythm of life. For most of his school career, his lunches consisted of a peanut butter and honey sandwich, a fruit snack and a cheese stick. We’ve testified to his persnickety eating habits before on these pages. Well, now he can’t have peanut butter sandwiches in his lunchbox because he has a classmate who is fatally allergic to peanuts, and we can’t find the brand of cheese stick that he likes to eat. We currently have a drawer in our fridge full of apparently off-brand cheese sticks that he will not touch.
The poor kid. He’s just gonna have to learn to deal with it. Or starve. One of the two.
Finding this new rhythm extends to many, many other questions, too: At what time do we need to wake up? When do we need to leave the house to be on time for Mass? Where do I find lightbulbs in the grocery store?
The biggest question in the new rhythm of life has to do with changing roles for Stacey and me, of course. Stacey is working all day, and my work is at home. I’m creating space for her to be free to focus her time on the work of a new and exciting job. My new job is to make a home for our family.
This means driving kids to and from school, planning and making meals, cleaning our very pink bathroom, folding laundry, and paying bills on a regular basis. My current “to-do” list includes getting new license plates, finding a doctor for our children and then getting him or her to fill out school physical examination forms, building shelves in a closet, hanging pictures, finding a cheap couch without any stains on craigslist (which is a chimera, by the way), and buying Oscar white baseball pants and navy knee-socks.
I think men are pretty okay with having “to-do” lists. Scratching stuff off a list feels good. And a list is finite—all of the problems are identified and written down. The only thing left is to apply solutions.
This past week, I thought I was doing a pretty good job of housekeeping—I had dinners ready, and lunches packed, and kids to and from their first week of classes. I was in the “to-do” zone, so to speak. The six hours at home flew by because I was gettin’ stuff done.
Stacey came home after a challenging day at work last week, and I failed to shift out of “to-do” mode. What she needed was some attentive listening and affirmation (as always). As she shared some of her day, I received her statements as information, but not as statements of need. I took the information in, but it had nothing to do with my “to-do” list, so I failed to respond with much of anything. Compassion would have been a basic human response in that situation, but I was so focused on gettin’ stuff done, even that escaped me.
I was used to fixing problems, but she was not sharing her problems so that I could fix them. She was sharing her problems simply so I could share them.
The effect was that Stacey felt like a stranger in her own house. She did not feel at home because she did not feel acknowledged and connected to our life as a family. Which is rather ironic, right? I had spent so much time and energy trying to create a comfortable and working house, and I overlooked the simple task of making the family feel at home.
That feeling of home does not depend on things being in the right places because it is all about the quality of relationship within our family. So, from here on out, the housework will get done when it gets done. I’m a homemaker.