Not a typo..

Our daughter, in her new kitchen, made us “sheet pan frittatas” yesterday.  We took mimosas on the back porch, talked shop, watched our grandson, Silas, blowing bubbles, gave Mary a few presents, lazed on the lawn, napped, and parted.  In the driveway, on the way out, Mary gave voice to the reality of the day: “that was utterly pleasant.”

It was.

The odd thing?  During the entire course of our marriage, that parting assessment of restfulness and peace–that sleepy tea brand of emotional calm–is fairly rare. During driveway departures, we’ve looked at each other and echoed the words “that was pleasant” perhaps only a dozen times.

That’s not to say a normal family gathering, for us, is a shouting match, but I’m convinced, between generations, and burdened by memory, an extended family might feel a hundred unspoken frictions gathering strength beneath the surface.  It’s something like a room full of treacherous angles and slippery throw rugs.  You can’t seem to find a comfortable retreat or even a place to stand. I can remember my father doing his level best to accommodate the cold dismissal of his mother-in-law, and two sister-in-laws trying to smile away their mutual contempt.

I once knew a fellow with several brothers, and one sister, who–like their father–all practiced law.  (We are talking Ivy League power-player attorneys here.)  My friend, who wanted to be a writer, was introduced to company as “our epic poet.”  The introduction was deeply annoying, and smarted more each time it was used, but I gather it was one of those tensions that would only grow worse if it were discussed, so the little scab never healed.  It just had to be endured.  Pick at the scab a little more, Dad. Brace for the insult again, son.  Do whatever you can to make sure you can’t walk out into the starry night and conclude, “that was pleasant, wasn’t it?”

I’m not sure where I’m going with this, but I’m guessing you could take it in several different directions..

  • You could buy a kind of peace by agreeing never to have a real conversation.
  • You could be the honest, but unpopular, “straight-shooter.” Call their bluff.  Pick a fight.
  • You could make up your mind never to take offense.  There’s a kind of power in the Ted Lasso strategy, but even Jesus turned over the tables.  You can only ignore bullies for so long if you really care about the people they hurt.
  • You can be selective about your company and your commitments.  I’ve noticed this is easier to do the older I get.  I don’t say yes to occasions I know I won’t enjoy.

In some ways, I envy the passionate, insulting families who can yell at each other and then break bread.  Picture the two Irish brothers who bloody each other and then share a drink at the bar.  I suppose that can happen, but I don’t think I’d invest in it as a matter of strategy.

What made it work the other day?

I’m guessing it’s just a decision, in a way.  Something like this:  It’s the Lord’s Day.  It’s Mother’s Day.  I’m guessing there is a savory breakfast in store for me soon, and a few jokes, and a few stories to share.  Close my eyes, look up at the sun.  Feel the warmth.  Enjoy the quiet clatter of Bougainvillea dancing on the fence in the distance. Resolve to end the day with the words…

“Well THAT was pleasant, wasn’t it?”

Of course, it helps when you are around people who make it easy, but I’m guessing those are the sort of people who RESOLVE to make it easy.