Dreaming of an ordinary summer

By Rita Buettner
A month ago if you had asked me what I was hoping to do  this summer, I might have launched into a list. Read a dozen books. Buckle the kids in the car and take a long road trip. Spend time with friends and relatives we don’t see often enough. Teach our children how to swim and ride their bicycles.
At the end of the school year, however, when our kindergartener came home with his very own summer bucket list, he had written three words: “Swim. Movies. Picnic.”
Now that, I found myself thinking, is a list. Those activities are special and fun, but they are also achievable and, I have to admit, fairly ordinary. We could cross two of those items off the list without even leaving the house.
So this summer, even though I didn’t have anything particularly exciting or extravagant in mind, I am trying to think of our plans a little differently. In fact, I’m trying not to plan much at all. Maybe our 6-year-old has the right approach.
Our lives during the rest of the year are so full. For most of the year we have school and jobs and sports and other commitments. Maybe summer is the time not to add on, but to pull back. We don’t need special travel plans or extra excitement. Summer might be our time to slow down and find joy around us without adding much that is new.
“Either we learn to find God in ordinary, everyday life, or else we shall never find him,” said St. Josemaria Escriva.
It’s almost a challenge of its own. And, it seems fitting to try to celebrate part of the church’s ordinary time by making the most of our ordinary lives. So maybe we’ll have more picnics in the backyard and take more walks. Maybe we won’t add many miles on our cars. Maybe we’ll catch fireflies instead of watching fireworks. Maybe some days we’ll just sit and be bored.
When I look back on my childhood, I realize that the memories I hold onto from summers are of taking our dog for long walks, picking mint leaves and rose petals in our yard and making pretend perfume in little cups of water, playing cops and robbers with the children down the street, and spending breezy summer evenings in our living room at night as we listened to Orioles games on the radio.
The memories of being home together are my favorites – and the strongest. In fact, the most memorable vacation we ever took was one where we barely left town. One summer my parents decided we would take a few days and spend time locally.
We drove to the Inner Harbor and rode the carousel. We rode the Metro under the streets of Baltimore. We traveled to Lancaster for a family picnic, and while we were feeding some ducks my little brother fell in a pond. That would have been the highlight of the whole trip except that my parents announced that that night we would be staying in what they called “The Hopkins Hotel.”
Then they drove us home to our house, which was on Hopkins Road, and everyone switched beds.
Christmas morning could hardly top that excitement. Is there anything wilder or crazier than sleeping in a different bed in your very own house?
To this day I can’t describe many parts of other family vacations – except the time the car broke down on the way home from Boston and the sweltering day one of my sisters drank the last Sprite in the family cooler at the Concord Bridge.
But we all remember our marvelous stay at the Hopkins Hotel. So that’s my goal for the summer: to relax, rediscover our little world right around us, and realize that the simplest, most ordinary aspects of our lives are  truly extraordinary.
That’s what I hope we can do on our summer vacation. I can’t wait.
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Catholic Review

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.