Thinking of Winchester, Illinois

Thinking of Winchester, Illinois

My parents are driving to Illinois today, they left yesterday afternoon and have probably arrived by now. My sister and brothers are flying in. All my cousins and aunts and uncles who live out of state are boarding planes and flying or driving. They will all meet up in the small town of Winchester, Illinois where my dad and his five brothers and one sister were born and raised. But not me. I’m here at home in Massachusetts and the only place I’ve traveled today will be the grocery store.

My grandmother’s funeral is at 10 on Saturday morning and I won’t be there. I’ll still be home in Massachusetts with my husband and children. My heart is heavy. Oh how I long to be there.

After two bright, sunny, Indian summer days, November has returned to it’s regularly scheduled gloom and today has turned to gray skies and rain, rain, rain.

In my mind I keep imagining being on a plane, driving in the car. I see the children and I somehow negotiating the journey. But the truth is there are logistical difficulties that I cannot daydream away. And so we stay.

I so want to see all my cousins, my aunts and uncles, my parents and my brothers. I want to hug them and see their faces. I want to cry with them and laugh with them and share all our memories of that spirited, spunky woman, my Grams. Oh my heart is heavy with longing. It is a drizzly November in my soul.

I missed my Gram’s 90th birthday party five years ago. It was an awesome bash, or so I’ve heard. I think almost everyone was there, all the far-flung Scotts who are usually scattered all over the country came together for a gala night. But I was 8 months pregnant with Bella and my doctor wouldn’t let me travel.

Oh the regret has hung heavy on me the last five years as I’ve heard the reports and followed my grandmother’s decline from a distance, always longing to go for one last visit and yet never finding the money, the time, the opportunity to get there. That’s life when you have four kids in five years. I know traveling with small children is not impossible; but it is logistically challenging enough. Add to that financial straights and, well, there you have it.

I wanted to fill this space with lovely memories of my grandmother but right now those words won’t come. Hopefully in the coming days I will find time to put them down, to celebrate that wonderful life. But today it is just rain and sadness. So I’ll bake a loaf of bread and read stories and sing songs and help with art projects and nurse the baby and make dinner and do some laundry and tidy up toys and put four little children to bed and spend some time with my husband. And I’ll know that all of those things are good and worthwhile and what I should be doing. But my heart is stretching for a little town in southern Illinois and a reunion with other loved ones who I haven’t seen in far too long.

It is what it is and there is no neat and tidy way to tie this up into a pretty package so I’ll just end and post here. A fragment seems just about right for this shattered feeling.

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  • Thanks, Betsy.

    Valerie, True confession. I started this post last night and so, as is my usual practice, I was changing the date and time so it would have today’s date when I posted it. (I’m not sure why I do that but I do.) I noticed the time stamp was 11:10 and couldn’t resist changing it to 11:11. I was wondering if anyone would notice.

  • I like those Beatitudes Melanie!

    I haven’t read the original blog post but maybe she was seeing a dichotomy where there isn’t one.  It’s not an either/or proposition but rather a both/and.
    Like you said, it’s not tasks OR people, but tasks as a means of serving people.  That’s important difference I think.

    The Catechism reminds us that peace is the fruit of charity (love) and that “Charity, the form of all the virtues, ‘binds everything together in perfect harmony’. [CCC 1827] “Love is itself the fulfillment of all our works.”[CCC 1829]

    “Peace is ‘the tranquility of order.’ (St. Augustine) Peace is the work of justice and the effect of charity.” [CCC 2304]

    Great post!

  • I had not heard of either post, so I had to go read what was written.

    When I first read Steady Mom’s post, I was really turned off by it. By the language. By the message. Then I went and read more about the author thinking I must be missing something. As I read her “About” page I thought, “Well, Doh! She is writing for moms who work!” Then I kept reading. She seems to view motherhood as a career or job. At least that is what it sounds like to me by the language she uses. “Motherhood has stretched me in ways no previous profession ever had…” “I hope my blog encourages other moms who are juggling multiple roles…” “writing here to help mothers .. who want to approach our jobs with more intention and professionalism.” Maybe I am completely misinterpreting her as I am completely new to her blog, but my first impression is that she has a very different perspective on motherhood than I do.

    Going back to her post, I felt almost like I was being given a managerial pep talk from my boss with slogans and platitudes and metaphors but little else. No practice applications. No meditative reflection. I well believe God might have said to her to “choose peace over productivity” and it certainly sounds like she has put too much on her daily plate, so to speak, from her beginning to her post. But peace, to me, means a lot more than it seems to mean to her. For me, peace comes down to the assurance that I have done what God wanted me to do to the best of my ability. My laundry might not be all done or not every lesson might be finished or the toilet not scrubbed, but God, who knew my limits and the limits of my household, laid out what I should do that day and I followed His will for me. Whether that meant I got the laundry done or maybe one of my children really needed some extra attention and the laundry didn’t get done. What brings peace to me and my home is simply doing the will of the Father, whatever that may be, and He always asks that His will be done with love and compassion.

    I’m not passing judgement on anyone. I hadn’t seen these posts before and I’d never seen Steady Mom’s blog before, so let me say I don’t know them and maybe I am misunderstanding someone somewhere. But I think the completeness you speak of in peace is the unity one comes to find when they are asking not “What do I want or need to get done today?” but rather “What does God want me to do right now?”

  • Obligatory pre-comment disclaimer: I didn’t read either of the posts you linked to; I’m just responding to your thoughts here.

    Actual comment: I react viscerally against a “Peace as the highest good” kind of mentality simply because I’ve seen too many people (in real life) abuse that sort of thing to mean “The external appearance of peace is the highest good.” And then you are required by a sort of cultural pressure to keep the peace at any cost, even that of your own self-esteem or sanity.

    I react viscerally against parenting philosophies that promote obedience as the highest good for similar reasons; I know too many people who obey their parents but don’t love them or even like them. (I should write this as a post on my own blog, but if I tried to write out my thoughts in full I’d never hit publish.)

    The trouble is, I don’t know what the highest good *is.* Your thoughts on relationship are giving me lots of food for thought, though.

  • Michele, I keep going back and forth. I agree that it’s a both/and. And yet I’ve certainly found myself in the position where I will get so focused (read: obsessed) on getting a task done that I ignore the immediate and more pressing needs of my children. I have been in the position where I’ve made the task of laundry more important than serving people, more important even than my own peace of mind. So I do understand making the to do list the master of your life to the point where it creates anxiety and worry.

    I suppose you could hold up the example of Martha: worried about many things. So I suspect that we’re both aiming at the same thing but using different words to express the same idea.

    Still, I like my formulation better.

    I love the quotes from the catechism. That totally gets at where I’m going with this. “Peace is the tranquility of order” yes, I love that… but I have to take it with the caveat I have to remember which is that with four small kids “the tranquility of order” might look like chaos at any given moment if you focus only on the toys strewn across the house and the sink full of dishes. The order I must strive for is the order of charity and justice not of cleanliness.

  • Katherine,

    I like your formulation of turning it over to God. I am striving to get better at asking him what do you think I should get done today. Also at being open to changing my plans and reordering my priorities when that seems to be what is truly needful.

  • “The order I must strive for is the order of charity and justice not of cleanliness.”  Oh, beautifully said and so true. But then maybe you CAN have order of cleanliness just on smaller scales.  Perhaps not the living room but maybe the spice cabinet.  A drawer or closet shelf.  Small but ordered.  I find that even in the midst of chaos (and oh do I understand chaos), those small things can give me a sense of doing what is possible and realizing the rest is all just part of the season I am in at the moment.  Just a thought.

  • Thanks for this post!  It really resonates with me and some of the struggles I’ve been dealing with lately.  I found it really reassuring that other people feel rewarded by have a small corner of the home that is ordered (or, more precisely, a corner that is consistently returned to order after use).  For me, having a clean kitchen and dining room makes me feel that I can cope with the needs of my little ones. 

    I also struggle with knowing how much I should be directly involved in my kids play.  If they are playing contentedly in an adjacent room, do I need to be there with them, or is it ok to be rotating laundry, or washing the bathroom?  My response is yes, but I still feel awkward about that.  I’m not sure why I get tied up in knots about these things, but I do. 

  • Michele,

    So true. Today Dom stayed home and he cleaned out the freezer. He found a dozen or more bags of odds and ends of bread and turned them into toasted breadcrumbs. Very much small but ordered.

    I vacuumed the living room floor so that underneath the mess of toys and dress up clothes and couch cushions I knew it was clean. Very much in the spirit of doing what is possible and realizing the rest is the season of joyful chaos.

    Sometimes the order I find is in cooking, making good, nourishing food to feed bellies. Baking bread will sometimes be enough to make me feel I’ve imposed some order on the chaos. Little bellies filled with wholesome food and the kitchen all tidied up afterward. Yes, that is a small thing but it brings peace.

    You are right it’s about the small scale rather than the big picture. Putting a little corner of my kingdom to rights and not worrying about all the other corners that I didn’t get to. That is the kind of cleanliness that I can manage, a precarious balance that I can call peace.

  • I love this kind of post! 

    As I read the first part I was thinking of the Hebrew “shalom” so I was glad you brought out that meaning of wholeness and completion.  I liked the way you brought out the Beatitudes which are after all somewhat paradoxical, in that deprivation lays the ground for wholeness—in the same way that household things have an element of paradox, in that incompleteness and doing things over and over again can somehow lead to peace. 

  • Thanks Willa, I love writing this kind of post. The conjunction of domestic duties, Catholic geekery, and linguistic inquiry is rather intoxicating. And I love it when the process of writing helps me clarify my thinking.

    An element of paradox! Yes! That’s it exactly. Thank you. That’s why the discussion seems so difficult we’re wading into paradox. Or is it digging into paradox?


  • Erica,

    I’m glad it resonated for you.

    I’m curious about being involved in your kids’ play.A re you concerned about being there when your kids are playing because you’re concerned about their safety or because you’re worried that they aren’t spending enough time with you?

    I can tell how I approach it, though of course you’ll have to figure out what works for you and what your own kids really need. My philosophy is that I want my children to learn how to entertain themselves. I want them to learn to be self-sufficient and self-directed. So I tend to not get very involved in their play at all.

    I find that there are plenty of times throughout the day when they express a need for my attention and I tend to take my cue from their behavior. They bring me books to read to them and bumps and scrapes to kiss and they ask me questions and want to help me do tasks (ok, that last is rare; but it does happen occasionally) and they need cuddles and hugs and need me to help with art projects or dressing dolls. I’m not remote and unapproachable; I hug them and play tickle games when I’m helping them dress or suchlike.  But for the most part even when Bella was our only child and when Sophie was too young to play with her I didn’t join in her games directly. I’d occasionally make something out of blocks with her of throw a ball to her but I’ve never played dolls or imaginative games with her. And these days Bella Ben and Sophie all tend to play together or alone but I’m not involved except when they need help resolving quarrels. Even Anthony I leave to himself to crawl and explore for certain times during the day while I’m otherwise occupied.

    I like to thin about what life might have been like for the Ingalls children while Ma and Pa did all the hard work a pioneer lifestyle demanded. Throughout most of history I think children have entertained themselves while the adults worked. I suspect it’s mainly an issue for us because we have more leisure.

  • Thanks for the comment, Melanie. 

    I’m not concerned much about my kids’ safety … our house is well child proofed and I come running when I hear sounds of trouble.  I guess I’m mostly worried about somehow not being enough involved with them because I’m doing housework or preparing for some part time work (church musician).  I agree with you intellectually about kids being self reliant, and my husband reminds me regularly about our wanting to raise kids who can entertain themselves, but I can’t seem to get my heart to follow my brain all the time. 

    I like your Little House analogy. 

    I hadn’t thought about this issue being related to our amount to leisure time, but I think you are probably on to something there.  I think there are other cultural issues at play there, but for the life of me I can’t seem to articulate them right now.  I think that since families in America are smaller now parents maybe have more attention to rain down on their kids, and that maybe more working parents (especially moms that I know) feel like they need to be teaching/doing something impressive or fun with their kids when they are around them. 

    I think that I don’t have many friends in real life who are full-time stay at home moms, and so I don’t have a good idea of whether other moms sit and play play-do, and read stories, and teach their kids to play games all day, or if they are more like me and do a little of the above and then mostly leave the kids to play with each other while they attend to other duties. 

  • All I can think of when I hear the word peace is “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” which is kind of a complicate reaction I’m having trouble untangling.

    There’s peace like I had today, with a freshly vacuumed and swept house, my own toddler playing quietly and our goddaughter napping on my lap, the dog curled up on her cushion.  But there’s also peace in being hip deep in some project, even if it means scrounging for dinner and a pile of dishes unwashed.  And there’s peace right now in sitting here, listening to the rhythmic thumping of the dishwasher, smelling the pumpkin bread baking, and thinking about what domestic peace consists of exactly.

    I think it’s possible to get so wound up in reacting to the sheer messiness of life, that we idealize a life without the mess and lose our peace trying to obtain it.  And it’s equally easy to lose our peace ignoring the mess.  It sounds odd, but peace is being active, and not reactive.

  • I like what you’re saying about order—this really resonates with me.  I know that when I feel all strung out, toddler-like, it’s usually because of a lack of order.  I think it could also be argued, for me at least, that a lack of order means I’ve let my priorities get all out of whack—I’m not being intentional about what I buy, or using our resources, and this haphazardness results in chaos.  Paying attention to order makes me focus on what I have, and make careful choices about what we need.  A great, thought-provoking post.