Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The State of Calm by Christine Gunderson


Over the summer, most of us engage in some form of physical travel. We use cars, planes, trains, or boats to get from where we normally reside to a different place, one that’s warmer, more scenic, more relaxing, or just more interesting because it isn’t home.
Sometimes we use those train tickets and frequent flier miles to make a more metaphysical journey. Let me tell you about my summer trip to The State of Calm.
It started in the spring with the three horseman of every mother’s end of school year scheduling apocalypse: class parties, recitals and spring sports. I staggered through the last week of school gasping for air, clutching my calendar to my heart, vowing that as God is my witness, I’ll never sign up for so many activities again.
My kids felt the same way. We needed a break. So we ditched our schedules and our so-called enrichment activities and jumped on a plane bound for South Dakota to visit family and friends.
Stress rolled off my body the moment we landed. I stood outside the Sioux Falls airport and gazed at the enormous sky above me. My shoulders, which had been hunched up around my ears since May, dropped a few inches. I took a deep breath and inhaled the scent of…the John Morrell Meat Packing Plant.
But even this smell was welcome. The odor of rendered pork told me I wasn’t home anymore and home is where the stress is.
Over the course of the next ten days we did things we never do at home. We didn’t have a schedule. We stopped at every Dairy Queen we came across and ate ice cream, sometimes for dinner. We stayed with my old college roommate for a few days. She and I had the pleasure of watching our children jump on hay bales and run screaming around her farm at twilight, catching fireflies and shooting each other with Nerf guns. At eleven p.m. we finally looked at each other and said, “I guess we should probably tell them it’s bedtime.”
We visited the Laura Ingalls Wilder farm in De Smet, South Dakota. I saw the claim shanty where the Ingalls family lived for an entire winter. It’s about the size of my walk-in closet at home.
I went inside an earthen dug out and saw how Caroline Ingalls turned a hole in the side of a hill into a home for her family. I scrubbed clothing over the rough ridges of a washboard and tried to make them clean, just like a pioneer mom. I realized I should be thankful, every single day, for indoor plumbing and air conditioning and the miracle that is a modern washing machine.
At the end of the day, we stood on the prairie and listened to the wind and the sound of the school bell as it rang over the swaying grasses and into an endless sky. I was deep inside The State of Calm.
In Minnesota, we played baseball in Grandma and Grandpa’s backyard until ten p.m. because in the summer it never seems to get dark that far north. Grandma hit a home run.
We played in the lake. We swam in the pool. We visited the place where I grew up and my kids saw the gravel roads and tiny town I once called home. We ate junk food in our rental car as we drove vast distances between towns. Aberdeen, Ellendale, Valley City, Fargo. Back on the east coast, my husband followed our progress with an app. We were tiny specs on an empty grid.
And then we came home. Now dentist appointments and back to school events threaten to deport me back to the failed state of stress where an evil despot rules with a calendar and an iron bound list of things that must be done. But I‘m not going back there. I’m determined to become a permanent resident in the State of Calm, not just a summer visitor.
Maybe tonight we’ll have ice cream for dinner.

5 comments:

  1. Love, love, love!! Your writing always makes me smile big! And a few happy tears this time, too. (I always think it's so great that I can wash and dry my clothes while doing other tasks...even sleeping!)

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  2. That apocalypse line had me giggling! I remember those days, with juggling way too many calendars. My boys are grown up and it feels like an eye-blink. Your State of Calm is very much a place I need to visit :)

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  3. Here in Minnesota, we make so many jokes about South Dakota (and Iowa) (and, okay, maybe Wisconsin) that it's difficult to comment on escaping to South Dakota. ha ha. But Dairy Queen! It doesn't get much better! Good luck on back to school. My kids have always run somewhat on autopilot, for which I'm grateful!

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  4. We lay claim to Laura here in MO, too. Had many younger-year visits to her house in Mansfield. GREAT place just to take a deep breath.

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