Wednesday, May 27, 2015

This Crazy Family Life

Like most bloggers, I post the "good pictures" of the Janaros and their doings. But I presume that nobody thinks we have an "idyllic Catholic family life."

Oh my, no. No, no, no. It's quite crazy, really.

I have frequently mentioned on the blog that ours is a home with a disabled father and a mother who has to work. We really do have a happy home, though. Not perfect at all, but happy. Fragile, but happy. Happy, but crazy too.

Other than school, daily schedules can be quite chaotic and subject to change at a moment's notice. The kids and their mother come and go on all sorts of errands, engagements, and adventures. Eileen has school-related meetings, Teresa has karate, John Paul has basketball or tennis, Agnese and Lucia have choir or sports, and everyone has homework and studies and tests to prepare for. The girls are in high demand as virtuoso babysitters. Everyone also has friends. And Eileen somehow finds a way to shuttle one and all back and forth to their activities.

But who is the most wiped-out, exhausted person in the house every day? Me.

Last year our second car, a 1994 Toyota Camry, finally pooped out (in the sense that it needs more repairs than we can afford -- the engine is still just fine -- ANYBODY WANNA BUY A CAR FOR PARTS?). We have been a one vehicle family since the past summer. One vehicle, seven people.

Granted, the "one vehicle" is a Legend. The inimitable 1993 Toyota Previa minivan. We've had it for twelve years, and though it has become a bit of a sardine can, it still gets us around.

Eileen almost always drives. I only drive short distances on familiar roads. I take prescription medications that are a great help to me, but it is good to heed their labels and "use care" even beyond what is necessary. Above all, driving is too stressful, too exhausting, too much of a strain on my condition.

This means that Eileen bears much of the burden of running the Janaro shuttle bus. She is an excellent and willing driver, ready to take on additional tasks even beyond the needs of our family. I thank Jesus for her energy and her enormous love. I am in awe of her vigor, and sometimes I wonder what would become of us if it failed her. She doesn't want me to worry about this.

But I do.

Meals are often "grab-and-go," and that's not ideal. But we do have dinners all together sometimes during the week, at the dinner table. It's hard during the school year, but dinner together is an especially good time, because we really do have fun together.

We are squeezed into a very small house and basically stuck with its mortgage. So we bump into each other a lot, squeeze past each other, and try to remember Pope Francis's "three words" (see picture): Permesso ("excuse me" or "may I?"), Scusi (sorry about that), and Grazie (thank you). We joke sometimes that an Italian heritage family also needs a forth word: Basta! (Enough! Stop! C'mon, quit making a fuss!).

We shout at kids (sorry, Dr. Montessori), and kids shout at each other, but we can laugh and forgive. We are funny, peculiar, smart, disorganized, cheerful and joyful. We are blessed by one another. Our happiness as a family is as secure as one can hope for in this life.

Still, the kids are young and none of us knows what may come in time. We are on a road together. I beg Jesus every day to keep our family united with Him and with one another. And Mary and Joseph and St. Michael and our guardian angels and St. John Paul II....

Every Sunday the family goes to Mass together. The Mass and the Eucharist are the rock of our life together. On Sundays we are gathered into the heart of Jesus and sent forth again, with Him, on the journey of our time with all our needs and hopes and our growing.

The Rosary is a crucial component of our family life. It is our goal to pray it together every day, but it doesn't always happen as a family event, and when it does we don't always have full participation.

As our children grow into young men and women, we want to educate their freedom rather than require them to conform in a way that might engender resentment against the Rosary now or later, when they are adults. A positive witness from us, we believe, will bear greater fruit, as we entrust everything to Mary's loving heart.

And, of course, Josefina is always a "wild card" who can sometimes get us all laughing during the Rosary without even trying. And some really great family discussions have come about in the time we spend procrastinating before saying the Rosary.

Our house is crazy and messy and cluttered. Eileen works so hard to keep everything going, teaching, taking care of me, mothering, running the home, and filling in all the gaps left open by my own incapacity. Thank God she has such amazing resourcefulness, but the strain is hard for her and I am broken again and again by the limits that keep me from contributing more in the way of nuts and bolts and the elbow grease that one usually expects from the biggest person in house. Not to mention financial stability.

We manage, but it's humbling every day. How does a man bear being put on the shelf, living every day in front of the fear that he is useless? He fears that he is useless in the lives of his wife and children, in building up his home. It is an awful solitude.

Yet in the midst of this solitude, new possibilities open up.

I know I wouldn't be much of a homemaker even if I were healthy, since I have zero domestic skills ... in fact, I have negative domestic skills (ask anyone in the house and they'll tell you): too often practical tasks that I try to handle end up on the edge of catastrophe. As it is, I have no little struggle keeping myself together through the day.

But I am, in an odd way, the anchor of the home. I am the one who is here, almost all the time. When I go out, it's usually with the rest of the family. I go in with Eileen and the kids to the Montessori school during the week.

I do my writing and my study in my corner of the living room, and our living room has become a place where we all like to hang out.

I take walks around the neighborhood, or in the area of the school. If anyone is home, they know I'm here. In a very elemental sense, I "hold down the fort." (I usually let the answering machine take calls when I'm alone, because they are almost never for me, and the machine takes better messages than I do... really.)

I can talk and I can listen, and I take an interest in everybody and lend an ear. This creates the unusual situation of a very "accessible Husband/Dad." Not being able to do much has its advantages. If someone needs to talk, I have all the time in the world to listen. A child may only want to talk once a year, but for that one time it's worth putting in the effort of being here.

Meanwhile, I share time with Eileen and the kids. Even if we are just sitting in the living room reading. Of course, an atmosphere of conversation tends to arise around me. The house is full of talk, serious or silly or both. Other times it's full of music.

I listen especially to Eileen as she shares with me the accomplishments and the problems of her work. She loves her task as an educator and a pioneer in the enterprise of the John XXIII Montessori Children's Center.

All of the children have received their elementary formation there, and Teresa and Josefina are still attending. I try to participate by being on the staff (I have this large title that I can't even remember right now). What matters is that I share her passion for this work and her investment of herself in it, that I love it with her and support her efforts.

I try to affirm and remind her of her value, which is something I can see more than anyone else.

I'm often absent minded, or wasting time on the Internet, or obsessing over photographs. I get absorbed in drawing out my own projects or procrastinating. I can so easily withdraw into my own brooding self and mourn my own frustrations. But I must dedicate myself again and again to remembering that she has to come first. One of the things that has saved my sanity is that -- at the very least -- she needs me to NOT GO CRAZY.

And through it all, we still love to be together. Thank God.

know that I am not useless. But my peculiar place in our odd family is so hard to grasp. Perhaps there is a gift in this fact: I have to learn my task as it unfolds according to my possibilities and the variations of my health. And I am no less lazy than any other human being, but I struggle against it; I keep returning to the moment, and to the challenge of giving whatever I have to offer.

Then I repent of my sins, again and again, and I give the whole mess to Jesus and beg Him to keep me going. I beg Him to put it together even in the moments that I don't understand. I pray.

I write my blog when I can. And I know there are people who are struggling to find peace and need a lifeline. I'm begging for peace, for a lifeline, every day. Begging Jesus.

There is only one Absolutely Reliable Person, and that's Jesus. Wherever we are, we have to talk to Him every day, really, like it's a matter of life and death (because it is). That's the core of living faith: relationship with Jesus. Trusting, because He doesn't do things the way we expect Him to, but He does bring everything to the good.

As for the Janaro family, we live by prayer and work and suffering, by trying to love one another, by permesso, scusi, and grazie.

Especially GRAZIE, "Thank You," because we have so much to be grateful for, to God and to one another.