Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Family Life

I am in the living room trying to write something, while Eileen and the children are in the background practicing a play. We have a sort of unique schooling situation. Perhaps I should start by mentioning that we have five children: John Paul (the only boy, but WHAT a boy!, age 13), Agnese (age 12), Lucia (age 10), Teresa (age 8), and Josefina (age 4). They attend a three day a week Montessori program that we have here in Front Royal, Virginia. My wife is the elementary level teacher, which means she teaches all of them except Josefina (who is in primary). Then we supplement with home schooling. Many of you know how that is. I might despair of home schooling if I did not remember how much goofing off I did in the institutional schooling of my youth and still I somehow managed to get an education. They are doing very well. Montessori gives kids a great perspective on approaching the world and discovering opportunities to learn.

Between (frequent) breaks to fool around, the kids are practicing this play. Loudly. Josefina is singing her own song and playing on a shelf with something that I think is hers. We haven't taken down our Christmas tree yet (its fake), but now that its February 2 its definitely coming down...soon. By the way, happy Candlemas day to everyone: this is the last day of the traditional Christmas season. I guess that means that tomorrow we have to stop being merry.

My wife is directing the whole thing. O, by the way, I should mention that this is a selection from Shakespeare's "The Tempest." The top three kids, along with a family friend, are preparing it for presentation next week at the Montessori school. The room is full (where are we going to put these kids when they get bigger?). I am in my chair. Daddy's chair. If I didn't have this chair, I would have noplace in this house. Seriously, no place. I would have to rent a hotel room. But I have my chair, with a table next to it and my books and my laptop. Its my island and no one else is allowed on it. (Well, Josefina is when she want me to read her a book).

I have a gift for being able to concentrate, read, and write while surrounded by audio and visual chaos. In fact, I often prefer it to solitude. Its as if I focus better on my particular thing when I have the feeling that the rest of the world is going on. I even like my work to be punctuated by the (occasional) distraction. But this is not always a virtue. "John what does she want?," Eileen would yell from another room. I would be sitting in my chair reading metaphysics or The Brothers Karamazov or something and a kid would be screaming her head off right next to me. Or there would be a knock-down, drag-out fight going on. This was more true when they were smaller. I would look up...hmm, no blood, no barf, I don't smell, ah, anything...what's the problem?

I have gotten better at this. Now when they are fighting, I look up from my book and yell, "cut it out!" (no, just kidding, I really have gotten better, but so have they). Still, it seems that Mommy is usually the obvious point of reference. As a Dad, I am kind of surprised to find out that my kids need me as a person. Like, they want me to come with them to the library. Yay, Daddy's coming. This is a source of excitement. Mommy is bringing them, what do they need the schlep of a Dad for? They like me. They love me. Because I'm their father. Its awesome, when you reflect upon it.

They also need me. And at this age they don't scream and cry all the time when they have problems. Mothers always seem to know what to do (although I know that's not true). Dads have to make an effort. They especially have to "learn their fatherhood" as John Paul II once put it. As my kids enter the adolescent stage I know I face new challenges. Our family faces new challenges. May God help us to meet them.