Around this time of year, many parents begin to look forward to the children going back to school in February. My husband and I aren’t among them.
Every January I’m surprised and gratified anew at how lovely this extended break from school is for our family. Even with work re-starting again for both of us next week, life will move at a much more relaxed pace for a while because there’s no school, friends are available during the day and we have long summer evenings to enjoy.
This is often when we make the best family memories; this is when we can afford the time to refresh old friendships. And, especially, this is when the children really have time – the loads of time really needed – to relearn to enjoy each other.
I have time to potter around and make home a bit more cosy; teach a child how to cook a meal. We can make it to a mid-week Mass, drive to visit friends or family who live far away, and hang out with the neighbours in our street.
This time of rest is so important for our physical, mental, spiritual health, and forging those family and community bonds that give meaning to our work.
We live on a busy road now but we used to live in a quiet cul-de-sac, which was much more conductive to getting to know all of the neighbours.
We have such great memories of life with our old neighbours! We still try to visit one of them each school holidays. I came across this memory from January four years ago:
Our friends were over for an early evening BBQ and between us we had several children scampering in and out of the tiny house for hours.
We let them use the front yard, and since they were reliably within sight or ear-shot we relaxed in the little eat-in-kitchen, said grace, and decided to open a bottle of wine. This was a rare treat for us, almost a grown-up dinner party!
Suddenly the children stomped enmasse through the front door, and from the living room we heard Naomi announce a ‘special guest’ in a very formal manner. I expected to see one of them enter dressed-up in costume.
But they dragged an adult into the kitchen.
The older children were pulling her with all their might by one arm, while the younger ones pushed her from behind. It was one of our neighbours, absolutely overcome with embarrassment, especially at the sight of our startled faces.
With her one free hand she tried to cover her own flushed face. “I’m so sorry, I’m intruding, please excuse me, they just grabbed me.”
“We CLAIMED her!” the older children cried.
In a flash I saw it. The poor woman had been watering her plants, or returning from a jog, and my children and their friends had said hello, and being a nice lady she would have said hello back and made a little conversation.
And then the children decided that she should join our little party and mobbed and kidnapped her.
Forget two-year-old tantrums in public. I’d never been so embarrassed by my children’s behaviour!
Around the time this happened I’d been reading through a slew of articles written by the Servant of God Catherine Doherty and was impressed by an image of community she described: The parents hold out a hand to God and another to their children; the children each hold a hand to their parents and a hand to their friends, thus forming a wider community.
How true that is. Here it was happening before our eyes. Just not in any way we might have expected!
This was first published in The Catholic Weekly.