Epic Road Trip Pt 4: Coming Home

I know you’ve all been such troopers sticking with me through my ramblings about road trip after road trip. Probably you’re just grateful that you’re not anywhere near my laundry pile right now and are ready to hear about something more interesting. Hopefully we’ll get to that. But until we tackle the biggest and most important trip of the batch: our trip home to Atlanta for my birthday.

I’ve mentioned in an off-handed sort of way a few times that I’m a Maryland transplant from Atlanta, Georgia. I was born there, but my family is originally from New York, so I spent most of my childhood feeling slightly displaced. I don’t say “y’all” more than about four times a year when I’m so tired that I’m probably actually trying to say something else anyway. I have no Southern accent. I can put on a decent one, but it’s really not natural at all. (Actually, when I’m really groggy, I sound like I’m from Brooklyn. You can thank my grandpa.) I don’t speak slowly or like to be outside in the Summer (ok–Southerners don’t really like this. They like their air conditioners.) I don’t have a fried chicken recipe that I swear by or eat chitlins or do much frying in general. I have no relatives who fly confederate flags from the backs of their pickup trucks. While I do know how to make a nice pitcher of sun tea, I don’t like to tell people that I’m fixin’ it.

Deep, deep, down, I think I’ve always wanted to try a hoop skirt.

It wasn’t until I moved to Maryland that I began to actually feel Southern. Most likely this is a result of many a heated argument that my husband and I have had regarding whether Maryland can be considered “the South.” He’s from here and defends this little state’s Southern-ness (yes, not really a word, but it’s been too long a day to care) tooth and nail. He argues that they wanted to secede from the Union, but mean ol’ Mr. Lincoln incarcerated the entire voting body so they couldn’t vote to do so. He’ll remind you that it’s technically south of the Mason-Dixon line. He’ll even quote a president as saying that Baltimore was a city of “Northern charm and Southern industry.” (Nice, huh?)

It wasn’t until I moved here that I started getting defensive about what’s really the South. Here’s my argument: None of the cashiers at the grocery store strike up a regular conversation with me while I’m unloading my cart. Eighty percent of the restaurants and fast food chains have pepsi products (shudder) instead of Coke. “Sweet” tea up here tastes like unsweetened tea where I come from. For that matter, in the real South, when you ask for a tea, they just bring you a sweet tea (a fact that used to drive me crazy when I lived there and wanted a cup of hot tea and had to phrase it as such.) Every building there has central ac–no matter how cheap the rent is. The grocery store’s policy is that they carry your bags out for you and you’re not allowed to tip the guy. There is a Waffle House on every exit. The Braves are, and always will be, America’s team. I could go on, but I’m sure you’re already convinced.

Just try to tell me this doesn’t make you want to be a Braves fan.

We usually compromise by agreeing that Maryland is not the “deep” South. For the health of our marriage.

All this is to say that after our miraculously short drive down (13 hours down driving overnight), I was ready to soak up every last bit of my semi-Southern/semi-New York Italian & Irish hometown and family as possible. We did it right folks: two Waffle House trips, a Zaxby’s stop (how I wish they’d open one up here!), two big family parties, and going directly from our air-conditioned rental car to similarly arctic conditions wherever we were going. We had a blast.

The best part, though, was seeing my family for the first time since Christmas. We were supposed to go down for Easter, but between my surgery and the husband’s new job having just started, there was just no vacation time. We made dinner with my mom and sister, stayed up late talking and drinking tea (hot tea with milk and sugar for the record–Irish style) as we’ve always done in my family, and watched baseball movies.

Why yes, my husband did get the owner of Waffle House to personally send me two mugs for Christmas this year. I'm so lucky.

Why yes, my husband did get the owner of Waffle House to personally send me two mugs for Christmas this year. I’m so lucky.

We also had a family party to celebrate all of the birthdays from August and September (5, if you’re curious. Although we added the one October kid in to make it 6). I adore our family parties. There’s something about being just this one simultaneously very important and not really important at all person in a loud, loving, swirling mass of aunts, uncles, cousins, and children of assorted ages. I feel more grounded, more me, and more at home than I do just about anywhere else.

As long as I can remember, we would have one birthday party a month for any family members born during it (hey–it’s expensive to feed that many people,) except for the horrible, sad gap between New Year’s and Easter. There are only four birthdays during this gap and because we’ll have just lugged out the big bucks to afford Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s parties back-to-back-to-back, we have to take a break. It took me years to realize that I would often sink into a mild depression during this time of year because I needed the madness of my beautiful and crazy family to recharge. Turns out, I needed the physical closeness and volume and food and jokes and hugs to feel connected to my sense of self.

Our modern secular culture would not like my family or my reliance upon it. This culture constantly tells us that we’re supposed to be entirely self-reliant, self-contained, and self-important. Our identity should never be wrapped up in someone else, it says. We must be independent! Chase our dreams! Sacrifice for no one!

But guess what? Our faith teaches us that being interdependent, being consistently generous, and emptying ourselves for the love of others is how we get to Heaven. What my family taught me, without knowing it, is that it is better to be part of the love and madness of a family than to be self-contained. They taught me that sacrificing my eardrums and my personal space and spending hours over a hot stove to prepare a meal for twenty-something people to show them that I love them is the best thing in the world. When I’m home, I am just one very loved but singular component of the great, big, wonderful thing that is my family, for which I would give whatever is required of me.

My family prepared me for my vocation as a wife and, hopefully some day, a mother. Because the unconditional and sacrificial love that I’m overwhelmed by and surrounded by during a regular family dinner is a sign, a dim reflection, of the beatific vision that I’m stumbling towards, Heaven. And it’s a great thing if I can focus on yearning for that Heavenly home the way that I yearn for this earthly one.

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How the Rosary Fixed Everything

In the last couple of weeks, hubby and I have finally started something new and wonderful: our family rosary.

We used to both try to squeeze in separate rosaries during our commutes to work, sometimes successfully and sometimes…not so successfully. Well, his was pretty much always successful. It’s mine that seemed kind of hit or miss. Sometimes I’d just be so tired that I’d wind up praying so slowly that I’d barely get in a decade during a half hour commute. Ridiculous, I know. I’d lose track of what Hail Mary I was on and pray the same one over and over and over. I’d tried doing other times of day too, but what I discovered is that I’m just the sort of person who needs to move in order to focus my mind enough to pray a rosary. I make it through Mass with minimal twitching, but apparently for me, stillness of heart does not completely equal stillness of body.

Our Lady praying her rosary

This is what I imagine praying a daily rosary is supposed to be like.

In all honesty, it got to the point where I was beyond frustrated and beginning to feel resentful of the time it was taking me to get it done. Which is NOT how I want my prayer life to feel. During a really great heart-to-heart one night while we were driving home, I confessed my frustrations to him and he said he’d been feeling a lot of the same pressure to “hurry up and pray” during his commute.

One of our guardian angels must have whispered in my ear, because out of nowhere, I got the sudden urge to suggest that we try to do our rosary together before bed. We were both very hesitant. In fact, almost as soon as the words were out of my mouth, I was cringing with regret.

You have to understand: we have very different bedtime needs. My husband gets tired all of a sudden and then wants to go to bed RIGHT. NOW. I, however, need a very deliberate wind down. Then he tends to get maddening second winds while I’m doing my wind down and then just as soon as I’ve gotten myself pulled into the second wind because I feel guilty watching him clean all by himself, BAM. He’s done. Time to crash. And I’m left more wound up than a jack-in-the-box.

Clearly planned bedtime anything did not sound like a good idea to either of us. But we decided to try it. The worst that could happen was that it would be an epic blundering fail and we’d wind up miserable and exhausted for a couple of nights before we gave it up, right?

The very first night we were set to try it out we were already far, far behind (I blame getting out of work late and sheer laziness.) So I asked if he wouldn’t mind if we started our rosary while we did the dishes, thinking we were cheating ourselves into a little extra sleep time afterwards. He agreed, and as we began something miraculous happened: it all fell into place.

As we prayed, we did all of the dishes. And tidied the kitchen. And the living room. And made sandwiches for the next day’s lunch. And folded and put away the laundry. And set out our clothes for the next day and got changed into to pajamas. And I mindlessly filed away the paperwork for our paid bills.

Pretty Pinterest Kitchen

Imagine that this pintrest kitchen is our now beautifully clean kitchen! Imagining is fun. 😉

All of those (stupid) mind-numbing household chores that were stressing us out and there was never time to do got done. But we didn’t feel like we’d done them–we felt like we’d prayed a rosary. Because we had. Our minds and hearts had been focused on the mysteries of Our Lady’s rosary, but our bodies had just gone along doing other parts of our vocation by taking care of our house. We couldn’t believe how peaceful and refreshed we felt, both from the graces of praying our daily rosary together and from the side perk of having finally got caught up.

Needless to say, praying the rosary this way together has changed. our. life. After a few weeks of our new prayer routine, our house is actually under control, our laundry stays (mostly) caught up, our dishes are done and the sink is almost always empty when we go to bed (gasp!), and –drumroll please– I have a really clear idea of when we’ll be done with our tidying and therefore of when it’ll be time to sleep. So I can wind down appropriately and settle my mind to sleep. And he has a clear idea of when it’ll be time to stop all cleaning.

After seeing how well this was working, we made the deal that all cleaning would stop when our rosary was finished, regardless of what was left, and that it would be bedtime once we were done too. I wasn’t watching him run around the house anymore and he wasn’t watching me desperately trying to calm myself down and mentally prepare for bedtime (clearly I’m a night person and have to fight the adrenaline rush that kicks in around 10:30 pm. )

Our Lady and her beautiful rosary saved our peace of mind, our bedtime routine, and our ability to do housework (I won’t get all dramatic and tell you it saved our marriage–this was definitely a major point of tension, but our marriage was not in trouble by any means.) It was truly amazing what she was able to do for us once we just decided to make a shared commitment to our prayer life. We’re no longer stressed throughout our day, wondering whether we’ll get our individual rosaries finished, or get anything else done. I know we’ll pray a focused rosary and that we’ll fulfill our vocation with the work of our hands as we do.

We are so blessed to have found this way of making our family rosary work for us. I’d love to hear how other families do things differently, especially ones that have been blessed with children. If we are given children, I’m sure we’ll have to re-evaluate at some point whether our “active rosary” communicates the right message to them or not, but for now, this is part of our path to Heaven.

Family Rosary!

This is how I imagine it one day. This illustration is from an incredible set of books by Susie Lloyd. I highly recommend them both, “Please don’t drink the Holy Water” and “Bless me Father, for I have kids.”