I confess that too often the parenting task for me is just that: a task. Dealing with daily bickering, navigating the emotional vicissitudes of adolescents, refereeing the numerous verbal squabbles and physical altercations ... these and the other tasks of responsible parenting are draining. It is easy for me to wonder what my life might have been like had I remained single or married and childless. My memory of those times is selective, for I remember the freedom, the solitude, the necessity of worrying about primarily one person, myself. I say my memory is selective, however, because I do not first remember the loneliness, the sense that I was missing out on the most powerful moments of life, devoid of creating any lasting sense of legacy. So, when my mind is lulled back to those halcion days of yesteryear, I have to remind myself that life is better now than it was then. It is better qualitatively, it is better emotionally, it is better in almost every way.
Today's Fletcher Family Friday Fun day was less than memorable. Three of the kids opted out of the experience, and the remaining four children (who live at home) and I traveled ninety miles to visit a small zoo and park. It was a rainy, overcast day, so our hiking plans didn't eventuate, but we enjoyed observing the animals native to Minnesota habitat. I found the snakes far too accessible (I have a dread fear of snakes, for some reason) for my liking, but I enjoyed the otters, the black bear, and the wild turkeys in particular. The zoo is a rather traditional one and although the grounds are well taken care of and the animals appear quite healthy, they exhibit the pacing that is typical of the encaged animal. Their appearance saddened me. I am no PETA member and don't have a particular bent against zoological enterprises, but I was saddened because I recognize in their behavior a tendency of my own, especially when I am feeling "captured" by my family choices and responsibilities. There are times in my life when I emotionally "pace," looking for a way out of the boundaries that I have created for myself. There are moments when I must seem to be less than satisfied with my surroundings and environment, when I frantically look beyond the "cage" of my life, looking for greener grass.
Fast forward to dinner time tonight. My wife is back in town after a few days away from the family on business, so we are all getting adjusted to being together again. What that means is an extra amount of tension in our family interactions as all of us assume more familiar roles. In our family the mom is the primary disciplinarian and rule-keeper, so we adjust to her attentiveness in that area of life. I'm sure the kids feel a bit more cagey and edgey knowing that their mother will catch the things that their dad didn't all week long, so the level of tension rises naturally.
We finished our dinner time together just as the phone rang. I never the answer the phone at home because it typically is for someone in the family, or it is someone offering a great home refinancing rate for the umpteenth time, or it is someone I really don't want to talk to at all. Tonight's call was from a parishioner's son, sharing with me an update about his mom's health condition. In consideration of confidentiality, I won't say anything more about the specifics, but suffice it to say that the news was not good. She had received news of a setback in her condition, which really necessitated a pastoral visit.
Today is my day off, but I left immediately for a hospital visit. We had a productive conversation, and forty minutes later as I was leaving the hospital for my car, I realized how good it is to be alive. Even when my children are utter pains, doing all they can to annoy and harrass one another, and by consequence their parents. It is good to be able to walk to my car, independently in the warmth of a late summer afternoon to drive to my home, where I know I will find at least one kid who wants to see their dad. It is good to know that in a few minutes my fifteen-year-old son will use some of his hard-earned savings to take his dad out to a movie to celebrate my birthday. He even has offered to buy the snacks!
It's good to be alive. And tonight I am feeling just how good it is to be married to a passionately committed woman, to have a houseful of kids who generally love me and to know that life is worth living.