The Ties that Bind

© Bruce Allen 2017

If you are fortunate enough to enjoy a predominantly happy marriage for decades, the fruit on the backside can be wonderfully sweet. Few people tell you this when you’re suiting up to exchange your wedding vows. In the beginning, you’re all eyes and skin and dreams, most of which don’t hold up well over forty years. In their place are these elegant moments that help us appreciate the life that is given to us and what we’ve done with it.

Even if we fall short of our dreams, there is something in me that says we’re allowed to, that it is the chase and the perseverance and the falling short that teaches us who we are. As seniors in our own family, we have the advantage of hindsight, and are still able to influence the thinking and behavior of our kids and grandkids. Those sweet, rare occasions when we make a positive, indelible impression on the life of a child are gifts beyond measure, especially to someone like me, whose main long-term concern is being forgotten by my family. I don’t give a rip about being forgotten by The World, just my own family. How to survive in people’s memory banks for longer than two generations. What will the grandkids’ kids learn about their Nanny and PopPop?

Here’s an insight. The stories they will tell about their Nanny will be funny and will emphasize her willingness to believe stuff, her loving, upright nature, her gentleness and consistency, her being there as a safe harbor when things might get tense with The Parents. Their stories about their PopPop will be about his generally futile attempts to corrupt them and his long, boring stories about when he was a kid. How he could bang on the piano and occasionally, quietly tell them inappropriate jokes.

Sweet. But as to our grandkids’ grandkids, probably next to nothing. Sad.

Another pleasure, a non-intuitive one, is having family responsibilities that one enjoys. There is no one I would want as Nancy’s primary caregiver more than me. I get to serve her, to drive her, to make things easier for her, some of which is scut work, at which I’m highly proficient, while some of it is “learned intuition,” knowing how she likes things, her meals and her schedule and so on. I am certain there are men she has worked with over the years whom she has dazzled with her Jersey and professionalism and insight and who must have wondered, at some point, “What must her husband have going on to keep up with HER?” Sweet. My goal–duh–is to relieve her of much of the drudgery, allowing her time and energy to heal, pray, snack and talk on the phone.

It was the right decision, to let our daughters survive their teens in order that they might someday present us with grandchildren. This sweetness I’m trying to describe is there again each time “the girls” (or their husbands) demonstrate good, loving parenting skills. Each time the grandkids reflect the receipt of good, loving parenting skills. Each time one of the grandkids complains that mom is more strict than the other moms. Each time they engage in the Movie Ratings Debate. “Why does it have to be PG?” “My friends have ALL seen it, and it’s only PG-13!” Each time they argue over after-dinner chores.

I can’t get enough of this stuff. This is exactly the kind of stuff about which Nancy was setting the bar 30 years ago and their moms didn’t like it then either but it was the right thing to do and PopPop would comfort them by suggesting they go write their congressman. What is left unsaid is, “And you’ll be happier and a better person as an adult if you ’embrace’ high standards as a child.” Best of all, I’m not even ALLOWED to get involved. Sweet.

So here we are almost 45 years later with glasses, skin that has sagged, and dreams constrained the way a football team’s playbook gets compressed in the red zone. Despite the challenges God has placed before Nancy and me, we have a seemingly endless source of these sweet moments, many of which are courtesy of our daughters and their families.

I was an only child and never knew my grandparents. I have become a big fan of this whole extended family thing, although I find it difficult to maintain over long periods of time. Short bursts are great; I’ve found I’m kind of a five day guy when I’m visiting. Here, in Hoosierville, kids and grandkids can stay as long as they want. There’s plenty of room, our local daughter’s family is somehow almost always available to get involved, and it’s all good. Plus I figure it’s important that they all get as much one-on-one time with Nanny as possible. Sweet.

This is the good stuff they don’t tell you about when you’re getting married. This is the stuff people need to know to survive those years when the kids are growing up and married life is way more work than fun. This is the kind of stuff that makes old age and arthritic knees and wigs such minor inconveniences.

These are the ties that bind.

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So, That was Peaceful

© Denise McGonigal.  October 2015

Family meals have only become more chaotic. Our nightly events with four daughters have evolved into loud and crazy commotions, with three sons-in-law, a boyfriend, and four rambunctious grandchildren added to the mix. As we packed up to leave her home last Sunday night, securing crying babies in car seats, placating over-tired toddlers who pleaded for “just five more minutes, Mommy,” Meghan remarked in her usual irony-laden tone, “So, that was peaceful.”

Ha! Not so much! Yet, when I sounded a family dinner invitation the following Wednesday and again on Sunday, everyone came pouring back together and the whole raucous riot played out again.

You know the “stuff” of typical family dinners. A glass of milk invariably splatters across the table. Twin boys produce messy diapers and bombard the table with sweet potatoes as they practice their new spitting trick. An argument ensues among the girls about who-wore-whose-sweater-last-and-who-should-wash-it-before-returning-it. Mom’s “you look tired” comment gets blown all out of proportion. “Catch the stupid ball” erupts from the family room when a Colt’s receiver misses a pass. And a two-year-old tumbles down the steps – boom, boom, boom – throwing everyone into a panic.

Same scenarios. Different homes. Yours and mine. Every time.

So why do we keep coming back for more? Is there something imperceptible that happens deep down inside the fabric of our families while the symptoms of our brokenness, our humanness, play out when we’re together?

Perhaps it’s…
…the laughter we create that connects our joy with the heavenly chorus.
…the sadness we unload that deepens a bond that forever roots us.
…the forgiveness we extend that forges a trust that can’t be shaken.
…the dreams we weave together that give us courage to face the future.
…the hands we join in prayer that unite our hearts to a love beyond us.
…the story we create as family that connects our lives to the Great Story.
…the peace within our chaos that announces God’s kingdom within our midst.

During his visit to Philadelphia, Pope Francis offered a charming off-the-cuff tribute to the joys of marriage and parenthood, remarking, “Families have difficulties…in families, we quarrel. Sometimes plates can fly. Children bring headaches,” even adding, “I won’t speak about mothers-in-law.” But he also offered the profound prayer, “Holy Family of Nazareth, reawaken in our society the awareness of the sacred and inviolable character of the family, an inestimable and irreplaceable good.”

Let’s all pray that we keep sight of that “inestimable and irreplaceable good” of our families amidst the messiness of flying plates.

Chaos