When this is published on Monday, my daughter will be enjoying her first full day of summer break. It's hard to believe that one full year has gone by. It's been an exciting year that included the loss of numerous teeth, a long holiday stay with friends from Japan, almost two-weeks of back to back snow days, not to mention entering the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil! Ahead of us are numerous summer camps, continued progress at Tae Kwon Do, and an annual Family Reunion out of town with a chance to spend some of the only time she gets with her cousins.
In my parish work, Religious Education classes have ended for the year. But all that really means is that I switched modes from dealing with the present situation of children, adults, classes and sacramental celebrations to the future planning of the same for next year. It is a hard thing to do because I know as parents and as children/youth we all want to take some much needed time off to enjoy summer. School will begin again soon enough.
On the other hand, summer time also seems unavoidably full of planning. Enrollment in summer camps might have begun as early as April. For those enrolling now, there is probably a hurried sense about it with a wish that it wasn't so rushed or that "next year I'll do it earlier." We probably all have experienced the havoc of missing out on an event that was already filled up or the unraveling of the best laid plans because one or two of the scheduled days didn't work out the way we thought. We are probably all too familiar with various "hurry up and wait" activities too, where the best laid plans have to be placed on hold…sometimes indefinitely.
And I bet all of us have wondered: Are we too over-scheduled? How did we get to be so busy? Isn't summer (at least for the kids) about long lazy days, endless outdoor play, or drinking from the hose? Isn't it at least in part about being unburdened by time?
Yet for me, this period of time has become its own burden. And I hope that other parents who are further down the road with this than I am or people of deeper pools of wisdom might offer up some words of advice.
I am in a quandary about what to do with my daughter for religious education next year. As a Director, I often encourage parents to continue religious education even in the "non-sacramental" years because there is always more to learn. While home schooling is always an option for parents, I often stress to them how important it is to grow within a community of faith, which extends beyond the home as "domestic church."
Yet here I am seriously considering not enrolling my daughter. Why? Because this would be yet another scheduled activity on top of an already busy schedule (especially when compared to what I feel is a very non-idealistic, non-sentimental view of my own childhood upbringing). Additionally, in a basic cost/benefit analysis, I'm not convinced that the 1 hour of Religious Ed. she'd receive weekly would amount to anything more or less than what she might already experience in her faith life as the daughter of a parish worker. In other words, in addition to her time spent in the children’s choir, she already spends plenty of time formally and informally immersed in our community of faith. Ironically, though, this one hour that she'd be spending in RE would be one hour that my wife and I might for once be able to spend with each other without having to re-route our schedules, or drum up some child care. But it irks me, because it remains an example of how my work and participation in church life seems to always come at the cost of time spent as a family, which I am sure is not what the RE program means to do.
So what do I do?
The second quandary I've been carrying is that my daughter had almost a year of piano training two years ago. As it happened, (also ironically) it was because of my work at church. One of the music ministers happened to have some free time in her day when she had to be at the church and it coincided with the perfect time that I had free with my daughter. In that oasis of grace, she got to apply herself and be challenged. By the end of that time period, although she had been too shy to show others in public what she had learned, the gift of music had planted itself within her.
She hasn't had formal piano lessons for almost two years now. As a musician myself, I lament that because I know that she hasn't learned to play with sharps and flats (i.e. using both the white and black keys on the piano) yet. Over time, her ability to read and play notes gets slower and slower. Was music the first casualty of this busy schedule? Or, perhaps it was retranslated into her participation in Choir. Music certainly helped her participate more fully at Mass, enabled her to meet other parents and children in the parish and had much more lasting meaning for her as she went through the catechumenate.
In any case, I remember my kindergarten child of just a few years ago who was shy, but incredibly bright. Eager to please her teachers and instructors, she for a time existed in a preternatural bilingual environment. Nowadays, she can scarcely remember how to respond to simple questions in Spanish. Is her faith life on this same trajectory? Is her musical awareness? Or perhaps is it really too soon to tell?
I imagine like her entrance into the catechumenate and the process toward initiation, I will do my due diligence to offer her every opportunity I can for her to grow. Though I have misgivings about this program or that process, I know from experience that my child constantly surprises me. She is a deep source of wonderment and pride.
In Tae Kwon Do, she was so eager to sign up and get her uniform. But then we had to wait until the end of Lent and all the Easter festivities surrounding her initiation so that she finally had time to come to classes. On the first day, it was incredibly crowded and loud. My small, shy girl began to wilt. My wife shot me a look and asked me "What is the cancelation policy?" But we asked if they might turn the music down a little, which they did, and Hannah made her way out onto the floor. And she's been going back ever since.
She is now eligible to begin sparring. Hannah is quite small for her age. So I had some concerns. I spoke to the Master of the gym who was very understanding. He said if she wanted to wait until she was two more belts higher (which many people do) she could begin sparring then. It was really up to us. It was really up to her. I brought up the topic with Hannah in an open-ended, non-threatening way, "You don't have to start right away. You can do it any time you are ready...so what do you think?" She replied, "Oh, I've already done some sparring practice with our neighbor. So yeah, I'll give it a try..."
I want to "give it a try" too. But what is it that I should try?
Is there another oasis of grace, a summer time to be had amidst all these scheduled things?
Copyright 2014 Jay Cuasay
About the Author
Jay Cuasay is a freelance writer on religion, interfaith relations, and culture. A post-Vatican II Catholic father with a Jewish spouse, he is deeply influenced by Christian mysticism and Zen Buddhism. He was a regular columnist on Catholicism for examiner.com and a moderator and contributor to several groups on LinkedIn. His LTEs on film and Jewish Catholic relations have been published in America and Commonweal. Jay ministered to English and Spanish families at a Franciscan parish for 13 years. He can be reached at TribePlatypus.com.