Suburbia and The Family Unit: Homework

By Kersley Fitzgerald

Continued from "Suburbia and The Family Unit"

I work part-time at a kitchen design shop. Beecher's fingerprints are all over the place. Did you know you can get a bathroom cabinet sixty inches long? How about a 96"-tall cabinet with racks for cans in the doors and pull-out shelves? Or, my favorite, the "baking center" with racks, three sections of pull-out trays, and drawers on top. To spruce it up, get cherry, a rustic finish, and throw a slab of granite on top.

Because, if you watch any of those home shows, you know a kitchen just isn't a kitchen without granite.

I don't remember seeing granite countertops in Leviticus. Unless it was part of the tabernacle I missed. I remember that a mother needs to make sure her family is clothed and fed. And that parents are to raise their children in the way they should go. But somewhere along the way, we raised the suburban lifestyle to the heights of idolatry and called it responsible.

I'm kind of bored with all the debates about McMansions and carbon footprints and homeschooling. I'm thinking more along the lines of where our heads are in the game. And I think Beecher did some really cool stuff. (Central heating, people!) But I'm not sure God cares if we have an herb garden. I think He'd be more impressed if we knew our kid didn't like cilantro. I mean, the greatest commandment wasn't "Love God and live up to His expectations." It was love God, love others. That's a much bigger and less specific deal than we make it out to be.

We're getting into the freedom/grace/maturity/wisdom thing. The place where not dusting is only a sign of moral failure if you know your kid has asthma. My kid likes a clean house — and my husband likes one even more. But they will be blessed more by conversations about their day.

This is a wide-open thing. It varies. Where's the balance? Is it okay to buy a big house or spend a lot of time decorating it if you intend to use it for a ministry? It's a wonderful thing to have that one house in the church that is always ready to host a meeting or a dinner. Is it just an excuse to spend money on drapes? Is it an intentional ministry, or a justification? Does it matter to the people it blesses?

But we don't want things to be that wide. We want to shave off the edges of the narrow path until no one can walk it without tripping. I think we're probably hard-wired to appreciate positive attention. Problem is, that just leaves a vacuum for rules we don't need.

Stay at home Dad

I had a periodic stay-at-home dad. Every once in a while he'd get fired or laid off and hang around the house complaining about how we loaded the dishwasher or folded his socks. That's not what I'm talking about.

Dave is a stay-at-home dad, too. His wife's job paid more, so when they adopted their two kids, he agreed to stay home and homeschool them. Jeff's in a similar boat. His wife's an OB/GYN and makes much more money than he did.

As of this spring, my son has a stay-at-home dad, too. Dev retired from the Air Force in April. I'd gotten a job in November that promised a good enough income that, with his retirement, should leave us all right. The chances of him finding a good paying job before JT was released for summer was slim, so we just decided he'd take the summer off.

It's amazing the reactions we get when we say that. "He's going to take the summer off and spend it with JT." Most are positive. Of course, his parents aren't thrilled. But about everybody we know who retired from active duty has said, "Oh good. I wish I'd done that. He'll really enjoy the time."

Because he's tired. For the last twenty years, he's worked between eight and forty-eight hour shifts. I've followed him around the country, living a great life, while he's been working. For pete's sake, when he was deployed, I was in Hawaii. He deserves a break.

And going to work is the easy part. Staying home, keeping JT from committing any crimes, trying to figure out what's for dinner every night, and balancing the checkbook — I'm ready for a break, too. I'm glad to know he's going to be more involved in the day-to-day stuff. It'll be interesting.

I know it's going to be rough, as well. I know I'm happier when I'm working — even part time. It's good to be striving with other people toward a common goal. To have intellectual stimulation. Fourth grade math homework doesn't do it for me. It feels good to be a part of something bigger. I know Dev's going to need that. I know it's going to be hard for him to find a job in this economy. And maybe putting a label on it and making it sound intentional is a cop-out — like we're so afraid he won't be able to find a job that we just head off the drama by saying he's not even looking yet.

It's wider than that, though. Way back in the long-before, JT, at age nine, would have been working with his dad already. Nine's kind of old to be helping mom carry water when there's crops to bring in. And he needs the male perspective on life.

I found it interesting the other day when I realized I'm more concerned with how JT is. I make sure he gets enough sleep and (try to) make sure he eats right. Dev focuses on how JT interacts with his environment — make the bed, pick up the shoes...I think he's going to really grow during this time with dad. I'm really grateful we have the opportunity to do this.

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Published 4-19-11