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On the (Inner) Road Again

Updated: Mar 7, 2023

We’ve been back in Minneapolis since June, and it’s been a full Minnesota summer. We’ve earned our “summer badge,” squeezing every sun soaked moment out of every day. We swam, we camped, we cabin-ed (is that a word?), we sunbathed, we had dear friends from New Zealand visit for a month, we had time with family, and we started to design and imagine the next steps in our family life. 

One of the aspects of being on the road that I most loved was the newness. Every few days, new vistas greeted us; new rivers, new bodies of water, new trails. Interestingly, almost every day, some image or scene from our travels pops into my head: a trail in the desert hills outside of Santa Barbara, the rough and wild coast of Oregon and the hours my boys and I spent on the Hobbit Trail and beach, or the rocky beach near the Sea of Cortez in Bahia de Los Angeles, in Baja, Mexico. 

I was so into life on the road that at one point during our travels, we discussed doing another year away from home. While we didn’t take a formal vote, after kicking this idea around a bit, it was clear that another year on the road might bring about a potential mutiny from certain member(s) of our party, so we shelved the idea and focused on settling back in Minnesota for the time being.

Now, despite not living full time in an RV, I do feel myself on a road trip of sorts. It’s mostly an inner journey, and the “states” I’m traveling through are states of shifting identity, new personal awareness, and new ways of meaning making, as I settle into my role of “stay-at-home-dad,” and “householder.” This is new terrain for me. So much of my “old life” revolved around the work of ministry, and my identity as a minister. This new role is much less public, though just as important, if not more so. (That’s what I’ve been telling myself, at any rate.)

When school started for our 2nd grader, it was really his first time being in school, and he was nervous, uncertain, and quite clear that he really wasn’t excited about this. (Of our two children, our youngest was most definitely not the one threatening mutiny if we did another year in the RV, road school/unschooling as we went!).

On the first day of school, after strategizing earlier in the week with his teacher about the best way to do drop off, after visiting the classroom the day before classes started to familiarize him with the space and expectations, and then talking through everything multiple times with him, I found myself in the doorway of the classroom, with our seven year old wrapped in a death grip around my legs, shaking in fear, tears leaking out of his eyes. His teacher wisely encouraged me to sit with him in the next room, to lower the intensity of the drop off moment and to catch our breath.

It turns out, I also needed this time to unwind my expectations of an easy drop off, and zipping home on my bike to catch up on house projects and writing. As our youngest and I talked things through, he was clear that the only way this would work is if I stayed with him all day. Though it wasn’t how I imagined the first day of school unfolding, it dawned on that he had been clear about this request weeks ago.

He’d said multiple times, “You’ll stay with me there, right?” And I had assumed I’d stay for a little while, not realizing he was deadly serious about my staying all day. Sitting with him next to the classroom that day in early September, I realized I actually could stay there with him, to help him transition and get used to this new routine. “Ok,” I thought, “I don’t have meetings or pastoral care, or worship planning to do. I could actually center his needs, fully and completely.” And suddenly, I knew that staying with our youngest for the day, was, in fact, my “work.” After wiping from my mind the last of my “easy drop off” expectations (isn’t parenting, or life, really, about letting go of expectations again and again, as hard as that is?!), I gladly surrendered to this “work.”

That first day, I stayed in the back of the classroom, sitting in a chair four sizes too small, but my physical presence meant our 7 year old could settle into the space and begin to self regulate and self sooth. The next day, I stayed the whole day, but not in the classroom with him; I was in an empty room nearby. The following day, I told him I’d stay in the building for an hour or so after drop off, and then leave. That went smoothly and every day since has been an easy drop off.

So even though we’re settled back into Minneapolis and not on the road in an RV, spiritually, I feel like I am still on the “road,” traveling new pathways, shaping a new identity, decision by decision, choice by choice.

Every day, our youngest and I bike the three mile ride to school together, and it’s become a kind of spiritual practice. Every morning, as we roll down the alley from our garage, we ask each other, “What should we look for today?” It’s our mindfulness practice. On the ride to school, we focus our attention on particular objects we agree to look for. So far, it’s been Hondas, Honda Fits, Telsas, dogs, bikes, little lending libraries, trees changing colors, yard signs, squirrels, stop signs, pumpkins, and more. It’s not “work” in any traditional sense of that word, but it means we’re getting to know the neighborhood, streets, and alleys in dramatically different ways. We are noticing all kinds of new objects, things that have probably always been there, but are new to us.

As we bike, I explain the similarities between this practice and my meditation practice, when I focus on my breaths and count them, to help maintain concentration and attention. I explain how easy my mind gets distracted by “thinking” or “feeling,” and how I have to come back to my breath, and the count, whenever I get distracted. The same thing happens when we ride, I explain, and he agrees: we get distracted. We see a hammock on a 2nd level deck. We stop for discounted day old treats at Royal Grounds Coffee Shop. We see a friend on the sidewalk and wave. We lose count; we lose focus; we laugh, and reset, and look again for lending libraries, or whatever we’ve agreed to search for. At the end of our bike ride, drop off is a non-event; we hug and kiss, and he goes to class and I head home.

It’s a strange and beautiful journey, this gift of paying attention and traveling deeper and deeper into the land of being a full time, stay at home dad.

Getting ready to bike to school.

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