Now that we’re back in Ordinary Time and largely back to our ordinary lives, we’ve resumed our daily family commute to Catholic school. We get some strange looks when we tell people our children attend a Catholic high school 40 minutes away in another state! Why don’t we just send them to the local public school, or even a Catholic school that’s closer to home? How can we stand all that driving?
The short answer is that after all of our searching, we knew the school was right for our children. More than that, it was God’s plan for our family. And if that school was part of His plan, then the drive must be too! Soon after, we realized that a long drive to school can be a blessing for a family rather than a trial!
What do we do to find 40 minutes of grace?
Put Our Phones Away and Talk
The stereotype is that teens don’t like to talk. Another is that they are always on their phones. (Come to think of it, adults can be this way too.) We have some hard and fast rule about phones, and one is that they don’t come out in the car. We stress the importance of being present to the people around us and giving them our full attention. To adapt a beloved quote from my generation: Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and talk to the people around you, you could miss them.
A long commute to school provides a non-threatening situation where my children are a captive audience as long as we’re driving. And more importantly, I am a captive audience for my children. I try to listen more than I talk, and to help with this I ask tons of questions: What was the most interesting thing that happened today? What did you do in English Class? Who are you learning about in American History? Were there any intriguing debates in Ethics class that we can continue in the car? Did anything happen that you want to get some advice on, or just talk through?
Side note: They say that talking to your teens while looking together in the same direction (as opposed to looking directly at each other) can feel less confrontational for them. Driving sets us up perfectly for this!
Turn off the Radio and Listen to Good Music
If we’ve legitimately run out of things to talk about, we connect my phone to the car’s audio and listen to music together. No earbuds. My boys take turns being “DJ” and selecting songs to play. No radio hosts cracking crude jokes, no offensive lyrics, no commercials selling sex. Sometimes we listen to musicals and talk about the characters and story. Or we listen and pray through Roman Hurko’s Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. Other times we listen to good popular music. My two teens wouldn’t want me to divulge this, but sometimes we even sing along!
A 40-minute commute is like having an extra study hall period! My kids have more free time in the afternoons and evenings to do things they want to do because they know they can get reading or other homework done in the car in the morning. Not every assignment can be done while riding in a car, of course, but many can.
Half of a 40-minute commute can be spent praying a Rosary together. It is also great for a Divine Mercy Chaplet, your favorite Novena, or any other prayer. Being in the car makes it easy to spend this time praying together as a family.
We are blessed to have a commute that takes us through the winding hills of Northern Massachusetts. We see and comment on the beautiful deciduous trees, magnificent evergreens, and lovely lakes. Passing by farms we see sheep, alpacas, goats, rabbits, and cows. It wasn’t always like this—we used to live in the DC Metro area where we wound our way around the Beltway and the infamous jumble of overpasses called the Mixing Bowl. Whether we were observing the beauty of nature, architectural ingenuity, or the marvels of civil engineering, we observe God’s creation and talk about our responsibilities as stewards of it.
In our time, opportunities for silence are rare. It seems like everywhere we go, music is blaring. The constant noise not only stops conversations in their tracks, but can even drown out our own thinking. It’s much easier to follow along to repetitive, mindless beats than it is to reflect on our days: our words, our actions, our successes, our failures. We have to look for ways to give our children those important opportunities to be alone with their thoughts and, more importantly hear God’s voice speaking to them so they can cultivate discernment in all their choices. Driving is one of those opportunities.
Yep, the drive can be boring sometimes. But many of my friends tell me about how their home — or public-schooled kids are bored for much of the day. So, there you have it! A commute-free lifestyle is not a cure for boredom. If they’re going to be bored anyway, they might as well be bored going to and from a great school.
In short, before and after school each day, we spend time together as a family. And just think, if we were spending that time together sitting on our couch at home, or around the kitchen table, no one would think that togetherness was something to avoid. The fact we happen to be sitting in the car is incidental, and makes it no less precious. When we walk through the door at home we tend to scatter until dinner time, but those 40 minutes of togetherness were precious.
So if you’re facing a long commute to Catholic school, or considering a school but worried the drive is too long, you might try thinking about ways you might be able to change the way you’re approaching that time in order to recognize it as a blessing. The school, including the drive time to get there, could be part of God’s plan for your children.