Of Cars, Yards, and Record Keeping

To be born into this earth is to be born into uncongenial surroundings, hence to be born into a romance. Of all these great limitations and frameworks which fashion and create the poetry and variety of life, the family is the most definite and important.
~ G.K. Chesterton

Cece and I were driving along in my ancient Honda Accord (1989 – older than virtually all of my nursing students for several years now), and she looked around for a place to stow her candy wrapper. “Just toss it on the floor,” I said. “It’ll add to the ground cover.”

HondaShe laughed, followed my advice, and remarked, “That’s what nice about having an old car like this: You don’t have to worry about how it looks so much.”

True enough. My kids all know that our vehicles are about getting around, period. If they run, great. If they’re banged up and noisy and a mess, that’s par for the course – and so much the better. As Cecilia said, you don’t have to worry about its appearance when it serves an exclusively utilitarian purpose, and, among other things, that means a candy wrapper or two on the floor is no big deal.

Same with the yard. Sure, we mow, but that’s about it these days – or at least it will be, once the Arctic Vortex is just an unpleasant memory. When we were new parents in our first home, we spent a lot of time sprucing up the property: Trimming and watering, weed-pulling and fertilizing, we had all the time in the world. Ben, our first, was in diapers and pretty stationery, and weekends were wide open! The yard was a canvas, and seeds, our palette. Art for art’s sake, we declared, lawnwise at least.

Now, six more kids later, plus a dog, the “art for art’s sake” approach to lawn maintenance has given way to more practical considerations: A yard is place for children to tear around and play and careen lawnand chase, and for dogs to do all that plus, well, what dogs do.

Then there’s our filing system. The comment about “ground cover” in the Honda shifted my conversation with Cecilia from layers of trash to our family records and documents. I mentioned that, in the old days, I kept up a very elaborate scheme for keeping all our papers and financial information organized. I had folders and cabinet drawers, all neatly labeled, and whenever a bill or important paper crossed my desk, I immediately gave it a home in the scheme. We’d have no worries about tax audits in my family – that is, once we earned enough to have to pay taxes.

Right along with the yard, the elaborate filing system began to deteriorate rapidly as God continued to bless us with additional children. Now I have piles of documents stowed away in boxes here and there, and our approach to retrieving them when necessary is twofold: First, we hope and pray that we won’t have to retrieve anything ever,bright ideas paper and, when that fails, the backup plan involves judging approximate locations by estimating how many documents would likely have piled up in the elapsed time. It’s akin to gauging the age of a geological formation by counting layers of rock.

This is what having kids does to you. You lose your grip on what you think is important, and something new takes its place. Time remains a precious and scarce commodity, but you reserve much more of it for others, especially little others. Appearances and tidiness still matter, but not nearly as much as before. And yards become places to play primarily. And cars? Just the way we get from point A to point B – oh, and receptacles for “layered record keeping” of sorts.

But then, I’m guessing you already know all that, because if you’ve read this far, you probably have kids of your own. Consider this a reminder, then, of how far you’ve come, and how little you miss what was left behind.


A version of this story appeared on Catholic Exchange.

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