Happily Even After
By Stacey Noem
This year, when summer transitioned into fall, I found myself thinking a bit about “Ordinary time” – both liturgically and in the life of the family. Liturgically pretty much all of summer and most of the fall are squarely situated in Ordinary time, but I find that these days are anything but “ordinary” in family life.
In the summer, we are profoundly off of any routine we might usually have. Summer days are not routine days for a family. With children out of school and their regularly scheduled daily activities, all bets are off. Sometimes there are camps to help keep energetic bodies occupied, but those could change from week to week—which means that the whole family’s schedule changes from week to week. Add vacation and travel on top of that, and summer days are far from routine.
As fall approaches we transition the family back to school. This transition period–which runs, roughly, from the week before the kids go to school through the following month—is deceptive. It SEEMS like everything should be falling into place, but with all the preparing, purchasing, and opening events, it is anything but routine. For those 5-6 weeks, our family calendar runs the gamut from manageable to simply absurd.
In August and September of this year, in addition to the regular craziness I’ve just described, we added in two trips to the ER and the “death” of our car.
Two weeks before our oldest son Oscar’s first day of high school, Joshua went to get a routine oil change. The day we had been anticipating for a while had finally come, and the mechanic told us that the car needed more work than it was worth. We are a one-car family, so this was a big deal. We were ready to see this as an opportunity, though, and Joshua had us pre-approved for a car loan by the end of the day. We thought the weekend would be taken up car shopping, but then…
… Joshua woke up in the middle of the night with severe pain in his side. 24 hours later his appendix was out and he was enjoying the pleasant lingering effects of anesthesia (seriously, Josh is HILARIOUS coming out of anesthesia. We have video).
Three weeks later, after we had purchased our new-to-us vehicle, I heard our younger son Simon scream outside. It was early evening and he had been playing in the backyard. He came in hysterical, with tears streaming down his face and cradling his arm (bad sign). After a little TLC, some ice, and conversation with a friend (who is the best on-call nurse ever), I drove him to the ER. Diagnosis: fractured elbow and no fall football for Simon.
There was nothing ordinary about this time. But then again, no time ever really is.
Very little is truly routine in family life. If raising children has taught us anything, it is that we have to be ready to respond to whatever gets thrown at us. Sometimes that takes the form of an exploding diaper, sometimes it is a call from the school, and sometimes it’s a trip to the ER.
And that is what I think is formative about ordinary time: it recognizes that all of this is the stuff of life. The USCCB website writes that Ordinary time is “…a time for growth and maturation. It is a time of conversion. This is living the life of Christ.”
We have to be ready to respond to whatever gets thrown at us, and we get to choose how we respond. That is the stuff of life in Christ. If we respond in love, we choose to encounter the vagaries of schedules and lack of routine with grace, patience, and consideration. If we respond from a place of our fallen humanity, we choose to be harried, impatient or wistful for an easier row to hoe.
There is very little that is ordinary or routine from one day to the next in family life, and that is both a gift and a challenge. Our response to it shapes us, for better or worse. If we choose to respond in love, we become more perfectly conformed to Him who is Love.