I’m interrupting my regularly scheduled slog through the 43 Eternal Truths to bring you this update on our family’s summer, which started when the boys got out of school back in May, i.e. about 700 years ago, and to announce the invention of a family summer plan which may or may not get all of us through to September alive and sane.
Tag Archives: family life
Well, I’m getting June’s Heart of the Month in just under the wire, but I have a good reason: today my mother, MaryAnne Crowley, officially completed 34 years and nine months of a truly inspiring teaching career. She did a few other things in the meantime, such as gave birth to and stayed home with three children, moved house 5 times, supported my dad as he went to law school at night to pursue his own professional dream of becoming a lawyer, got a Masters Degree as a Reading Specialist, learned to play golf, travelled to more countries than I can think of, and compiled a truly spectacular shoe collection, especially for someone with size 5 feet. The best line at her retirement party was spoken by one of the younger teachers my mother has mentored: “You may have tiny feet, but you have very big shoes to fill.”
If you are a Dr. Phil viewer, you may have seen the recent show on Dr. John Robinson’s time-use study claiming that “Women have at least 30 hours of leisure every week. In fact, women have more leisure now than they did in the 1960s, even though more women are working outside the home.”* If you are a working woman, you may have already used Google Earth to locate Dr. Robinson’s home, somewhere in the Baltimore area, and are currently figuring out how to make something very large and very heavy fall onto it. And if you were doing this, by the way, you’d be using your “leisure time.” As Brigid Schulte wrote, in her Washington Post article on the study, answering emails or using the computer for anything other than work is leisure time. Other examples include:
“Watching movies with the kids. Visiting a sick friend with the kids. Talking to a friend about her leisure time on the cellphone to report this story while taking my son’s bike to the shop for repairs with the kids. Leisure, leisure, leisure.”
“Printing out a gift card to Best Buy for my friend’s son while yelling at kids and husband to “get into the car now” two minutes before leaving to go to a birthday dinner. Leisure.”
Maya Angelou has said: “I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way (s)he handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights.” To these words of complete truth, I’m going to add that you can learn some important life lessons by watching how people behave in a Butterfly House.
We visited a Butterfly Conservatory on our vacation to Niagara Falls last week, and I wrote about it in an earlier post. I love them. If I could live in one, I would. They’re one of the only places where I feel completely calm, except for the reptiles. Those would have to go.
In 2002, Maya Angelou was the speaker at the University of Illinois’ commencement. It was a cloudy day, and all the dusty old Important University Administrators droned on and on with their dusty old words. And then Maya Angelou was introduced. She stepped to the podium, opened her mouth, and her honey-rich voice rolled out singing, “When it looked like the sun wasn’t gonna shine anymore, God put a rainbow in the clouds!” Then she called out into the mass of people, “Good afternoon, rainbows!” It was 8 years ago, but it could have been 5 minutes for how full and powerful her voice still is in my head.
“Like a band of gypsies we go down the highway
We’re the best of friends
Insisting that the world keep turning our way
And our way
is on the road again.
Just can’t wait to get on the road again.”
–Willie Nelson, “On the Road Again”
From what I understand, despite prevailing stereotypes, travel in the old gypsy tradition had a sense of pride and nobility about it. So as I mentioned in my last post, it seems clear that Willie Nelson did not have traveling with children in mind when he wrote his song.
In fact, quite the last thing I felt after our 13-hour trip from Illinois to Niagara, NY was noble. As Sid the Sloth says to Diego the Saber Tooth Tiger at the end of the classic film, Ice Age 1: “You’re traveling with us now, buddy! Dignity’s got nothing to do with it!”
Quite unlike the freedom-seeking spirit of Willie Nelson’s song, being “on the road” with children of any age is like being in a moving prison cell. You have no personal space, the people around you appear threatening, and the food is terrible. The only difference—that you can get out of the car at some point—is really just an illusory difference because when you get out of jail you are free, and when you get out of the car on a family vacation, your family IS STILL WITH YOU.
I am sorry excited to report that next week is Spring Break here in our part of Illinois, and unfortunately happily for us that means Family Vacation! This year’s debate on where to go was particularly fraught with disagreement lively, partly because support for a real “family vacation” was what my siblings and I received from my parents for Christmas this year.
In a letter recognizing how busy each of our families are, my parents gave each of us a gift that would contribute to a vacation just for our own immediate families, which was incredibly thoughtful. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, my father is a lawyer, so there was one stipulation—we needed to provide some photographic evidence of having actually gone somewhere (though if we chose to go away without our kids, he preferred that the photographs be taken during daylight hours only).
When our friends Markus and Almut had their third child, we asked Markus how it was to go from being a family of four to a family a five. He’s a Classics Scholar—insightful, deliberate, a little quirky with a pleasing neurotic edge. “Well, it’s less…monolithic,” he said, making the shape of a column with his hands. “Four is just so tight. With five, there’s more movement. It’s more dynamic.” Then a bewildered look crossed his face. “Sometimes,” he said slowly, “I try to keep them all in my head at the same time and I can’t.”
Last week for some New Jersey public schools it was Winter Break. On Monday, one of my friends in Pennsylvania posted on Facebook that her “togetherness quotient” had expired; on Tuesday, my sister, who was at home in New Jersey with her three small children, texted me to ask who was responsible for the concept of “winter break.” (People with no children and timeshares in Arizona, apparently). On Wednesday, we discussed the equally absurd notion of taking small children “on vacation,” and on Thursday she reported that one of her sons had asked her a question that started with “What if…” and she had interrupted him before he could go any farther. “I just couldn’t take it,” she said. “I even said to him, ‘please stop, I can’t handle that kind of question right now.’ And yes, I’m a terrible person.”