As I type this, my two oldest sons (one a recent college graduate who now works and lives in California, and the other a college senior who is considering both law school and a job opportunity for which he flies out to Atlanta next month) are at the gas station with their dad, filling up the cars and getting some “recovery bars.” Earlier this morning, they spent 90 minutes, along with my 18-year-old son, doing the new P90X workout DVD, a Christmas present. I’m trying not to think about the two oldest leaving for Chicago shortly, to spend the weekend with friends, before the oldest flies back to his new “home.” It’s a rare thing these days to have everyone together. And I’ve been soaking up as much as possible, “treasuring it in my heart.”
It’s been a good break really, and we’ve had fun together. One of my children called me “giggly” as I set the large Amish-made, sturdy table with Christmas plates and glasses on Christmas morning for breakfast. The truth is, I felt my heart would burst. I loved spending every spare minute in the kitchen, preparing food, talking with my kids. Yes, even cleaning up wasn’t so bad. I lingered at the table after the meals more than I normally do, to talk with them and their grandfather, who joined us for Christmas dinner. I did a lot more sitting and listening than I am accustomed. I brought the towels in the kitchen to fold so I could be with them, and set aside my normal compulsion to clean and organize every waking minute. I didn’t “do” as much as “be.”
Still, I “did” a little. Hoping to take advantage of the cookbooks the older boys had brought me from their study-abroad trips in the past couple years, I made Spanish tapas including deviled eggs with capers and gherkins, lemon/garlic/pepper chicken, and patatas bravas (hot chili potatoes). We were headed for Lithuanian fare when suddenly two of the younger children got the stomach flu and everyone was relegated to bland food just to be on the safe side. Oh well. Family togetherness, right?
We celebrated a sister’s birthday, and enjoyed the rhythm of movies-in-the-basement evenings, a few family games of Apples to Apples, and I even whooshed my three sons out the door with their father to a couple of Notre Dame basketball games. Amusing to me, they dressed in themes for the Notre Dame games — the first time in matching flannel, checked “lumberjack” shirts. Yesterday, it was in loud, Hawaiian shirts purchased for a few dollars each at Goodwill. Personally, I think they were simply trying to attract the attention of the jumbotron monitor in the basketball stadium (which they did, several times), but I had to smile at the family “unity” I sensed, if just in a silly way and unintended.
At first, I thought my heart would break as I felt my family was, the day after our oldest son’s college graduation, when he flew out to the coast to begin his new career and life in his own rented home. But our family didn’t break. In fact, in some ways we grew closer. My oldest son shared the joys and challenges of starting out on his own, of buying (very limited) furniture, purchasing a car, discerning opportunities, finding roommates, choosing a parish, a work wardrobe, a style. And when he came home he had stories to tell — boy did he have stories to tell. And we did too.
The first few days home with everyone is a lot like a plane coming in for a landing. There’s a bit of bumpy turbulence as everyone “lands” and adjusts to being back with the family to which they will always belong, despite not living amidst day-to-day. We’ve been excited for their return for weeks, sometimes months. Some people’s emotions are running high (okay, I top the list here), and expectations can’t help but develop. The travelers themselves are tired.
After a couple days, the turbulence settles and a happy rhythm is found. It’s a breath of fresh air. It’s a vacation. I accidentally ran into my oldest son and his 8-year-old sister in Target. He was buying her a gift because he’s her godfather. He told me from there he was taking her to Dairy Queen for a milkshake. Her eyes were shining with excitement. They no longer live together but they’ll always love each other. Thank you, God.
I looked down the pew at Mass last Sunday morning at every child and felt proud and happy and sad all at the same time. This Sunday, the pew won’t be quite as full. It’s a new normal. It’s a transition. I’m not quite used to it, but it’s good, I think, and we’re going to be all right.
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