Notes from Home: Parenting and Reading

Notes from Home: Parenting and Reading December 17, 2016


Facebook informs me that today is Bart Gingerich’s birthday. If you don’t know who he is I’m not sure why you’re reading this blog. But I don’t want you to feel even more foolish so I’ll just remind you that he is the editor of this channel of this Patheos Blog. Did you know you’re reading a Patheos blog? Or am I so famous that you only come here and read me and then go away. Don’t do that! Read all the blogs here. Bart spends lots of his precious time trying to keep us going in vaguely the same direction and not just putting up any random picture we find on the Internet. Which my fingers are always itching to do. I hope you’ll join me in the comments by wishing Bart a Happy Birthday! And in being grateful for all he does here. And for letting me blog so freely and with such a ridiculously insane amount of words.

And now on to less important matters.
My house is a complete disaster. And I have to clean it today, even though I want to sit on the couch reading through my vast treasure trove of new books, and indeed new old ones that have been sitting calling to me as I bash my way through each and every week. This leads me to believe that I wish I could be one of those upper crust Downton Abby women who are Not Allowed to work because it is unseemly. They have to employ other women to do their work for them. Actually, I don’t care whether it would be a man or a woman attending to my domestic grind. Any gender will do. I would just like, in the least politically offensive way possible, to engage a bevy of….what are they called these days? Assistants? People? A Staff? Someone who does all the laundry and dishes and cooking and child rearing while I sit around arguing with The Man of Wrath about the accounts. (Have you read Elizabeth and her German Garden?) This vision is spoiled for me by the fact that Matt can’t really be referred to as a Man of Wrath. Or even Himself. He is too pleasant, and too much in the kitchen making biscuits and scones and stew and eggnog.

The thing is, when I actually hoist myself off the couch to attend to my own domestic burdens, I don’t actually dislike them. I enjoy the laundry now that we have fled so happily from that dismal Sheol, and I enjoy cooking, I don’t mind dishes, and I sort of like picking up the wreckage of the school room. Gosh, sometimes I even sort of happily make my bed. The trouble is that I always choose the busyness of my domestic sphere over my stack of siren books. (Did I blog about this last week? Is this what I write about on Saturday’s? Without variation or alteration? Oops) There has got to be a way to shove in an hour to sit around reading a book. But where?

I could try getting up earlier, or going to bed later. I could get rid of my seven minute exercise app. I don’t have enough storage on my phone for it anyway. I could try sitting down in the afternoon and reading for an hour or so, while the children “clean the kitchen”. Actually, I’ve tried that, but the way that goes is like this.
Me, opening a book, closing it and looking up because a child has just come in: What do you want?
Child, holding a Tupperware lid: Where does this go?
Me: Where do you think it goes?
Child: In the Tupperware cupboard?
Me, with clenched teeth: Why yes, that is where it goes.
Child: Okay.
Me, to myself: Oh never mind. Why would I want to read anyway? Who do I think I am, reading.
Picks up phone and scrolls through Facebook. Finally gets up and screams at everyone because the kitchen looks worse than it did when they all started.

I think, somewhere in the business of having children, that I lost the habit of mind that is still enough to read an actual book. I lost the pleasant sensation of true rest. My mind is always awash in the irritation born of watching a child do anything. Children are incompetent. They are. Their competence extends to the very small number of tasks which interest them, like unwrapping a bar of chocolate or satisfactorily slamming a door. They don’t see the point of putting away their shoes or washing out a cup so the next person isn’t drinking water that tastes like syrup.

Parenting is helping the child see the point of a thing, not just how to do it. And, like so many things in life, it’s one of those repeatable tasks that in the shorter sphere never has an end. There is always more you could have done or said. There is always a way it could have been more and better. In this way, it is kind of like the spiritual life with God. There is always more a body could pray for, more ways to help, more ways to encourage, more ways to serve. There isn’t an end to the tasks associated with the body of Christ, even the exercises of the mind and heart–the prayers, the putting aside of anxiety, the taking up of the burdens of another person in thought and care. But we’re not supposed to just keep going. We’re supposed to draw a line and go to sleep at night, and sit around in church on Sunday just listening for a while, not wiping up another spill of juice in the parish hall. At some point the limitations of my own self interfere and my children just have to go off and do whatever it is they are going to do. For some of them, it might mean that they go through their lives never having learned how to properly make a bed.

The point being, I should draw that line just shy of where I am drawing it now. I should draw a pretty scrolling line just half an hour short so that I can laze around reading not just the Internet, but also a single tiny book just once every single endless day. That’s what I Should Do. Whether I Will do it is entirely another matter.

And now I will go drag a shouting child out of a tree and begin cleaning. Why is there a child in a tree shouting? I can see a raining of snow flurry around my window. What is there to shout about? How did she climb that tree in her snow suit? Probably none of these questions have any real answers. Pip pip.

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