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Someone finally turned a light on in there


Halloween 2007, New York City

When I turned 13 my father said, “Over the next few years, you’re going to start to think your parents are really stupid. You’re going to think we don’t know anything. And that’s ok. A few years later, sometime in your twenties, you’ll realize you were wrong, that in fact we know a lot and we have  a lot to offer.”

No way, I thought. That’s totally stupid.

When I was 15 I lied and told my parents that a particular New Years Eve party would be chaperoned by the under-age host’s parents. Of course it wasn’t. Of course the kid’s parents were in Hawaii and the only supervision we’d have would be from my friend’s twenty-one-year-old boyfriend who’d purchased three kegs and a pile of weed. My parents could always tell when I was lying, so as soon as I left for the party, they called the kid’s house. Ten minutes later, as I was walking up the front steps to the thudding of a subwoofer somewhere inside the party, my father’s car was pulling up to the driveway. He leaned over and threw open the passenger door.

“Get in the car. Now.”

I sputtered and balked, hot-faced and humiliated. I was furious, but I knew better than to try to defend myself. I had lied, after all. So, I got in the car and sulked the whole way home. I spent the rest of the evening watching Dick Clark with my parents, convinced they were trying to ruin my life.

That was the worst part of adolescence, I think. The feeling that I was a grown-up and I knew how to take care of myself and why wouldn’t they just leave me alone and let me live my life? Why were they always butting their nose in and taking over and so what if I want to go to a party where there aren’t any parents home? I can take care of myself and gawd they are so stupid. They totally don’t get me.

It might seem ridiculous now, but I remember those feelings well. Utter frustration and abject loneliness. The injustice of it all.  Teen angst at it’s angstiest.

Sometime between college graduation and New York City, I realized it wasn’t my parents that didn’t get me. They totally got me. They got me so well they knew what I was up to even before I did. It was me who didn’t get them. But they didn’t let my inability to understand stop them from being good parents. They knew I’d get it one day, and in the meantime, they loved me enough to sacrifice being liked by me. They gave up being cool and fun because being my friend wasn’t important. Being my parents – keeping me safe, healthy, and cared for – was what counted.

Nowadays you really could call me a grown-up. I’m married with beasts and I have a little bit of life experience under my belt. My parents are still my parents, of course, and I’m still their child, but I have a whole new appreciation for the parents they were while I was growing up. I mostly take care of myself now, though I often ask for their advice and guidance. After all these years, they’ve become two of my best friends. And much to the chagrin of my fifteen-year-old self, it turns out my parents are totally rad and really smart. Take it from me, kids. Listen to your parents. They totally get you.

Thursday Night Family Dinner

family party 2006

A family gathering, November 2005

One of the reasons I am so excited to move home is because finally, finally after three-and-a-half years, finally I get to participate in Thursday Night Family Dinner. My mother always spends Thursday afternoons with my niece, and then my brother and sister-in-law come over for dinner, and often times, at least when I’m in town, most of the other siblings and their partners and various off-spring come over, at least whoever is free that night, and we all sit around the dining room table and eat something wonderful and talk about our day and what’s been going on lately, and sometimes we end up reminiscing and telling family stories, and those are my favorite times of all.

Other times we have a big family fight and someone stomps out of the room and everyone whispers in hushed tones and the person who said something to make the other person mad goes upstairs to apologize and then the mad person and the apologetic person come downstairs and we all eat ice cream. Or graham crackers with peanut butter and honey.

When I was growing up, my parents and I sat around the dinner table every night, ate a meal my mother cooked, and talked about our day. Which usually led to us talking about other things, like something great that happened, or something that was bothering us. Dinner time was our time to reconnect as a family. When I was really little, I would get sleepy listening to Mama and Papa talk and I’d crawl into Papa’s lap and lay my head on his chest and the deep rumbling of his voice would lull me to sleep.  Later he’d carry me upstairs, say my prayers with me, and tuck me in. In the mornings Mama would wake me up singing, she’d fix me breakfast and pack my lunch and Papa would walk me to the bus stop so we could spend a little extra time together. In the afternoons I walked home with the other kids and Mama would be waiting at the kitchen table reading the newspaper and we’d sit and have snacks and visit and then I’d do my homework while she cooked dinner and when Papa came everyone smiled and laughed and kissed and hugged and then we ate dinner and talked about our day. Family dinner made my childhood better.

Mike and I eat dinner together at the table every night we possibly can, which for the last year and a half has been nearly every single night. I adore our dinners together. Next to when we finally curl up at the end of the day, dinner is my favorite time of day. Dinner is when we reconnect, talk about our day, the great things that have happened, something that’s bothering us. It’s our one guaranteed hour of quality time in the day. It’s a gift from one to the other.

When something is bothering me I need a little time to warm up before I can talk about it. I can’t just pin Mike down at the end of a busy week and dump my heart out. I’ve got to spend a little quality time with him, talk about the weather, the dogs, something stupid, anything. I’m slow to warm. Which is not to say I don’t feel safe with Mike, because if there is anyone I feel safe with, it’s him. That man has known me through some of the ugliest moments of my life and he has always stood next to me, arms open and ready to catch me the moment I fell. I’m no psychologist, but I believe that open and honest communication is the only way to have a solid relationship. And open and honest communication only comes when you are able to communicate on a regular and frequent basis, because communication = human connection. Therefore family dinner = human connection = happy marriage = happy family.

I was not at all prepared for the loss of connection with the people I love the most when I moved to New York. Of course we’ve all made the best of it, found ways to connect through social media and lengthy emails and photos and regular visits. But it’s going to be so much better when I’m not so far away! And also more annoying, probably. There is nothing like seeing someone on a regular basis to make you feel like they’re driving you crazy. Even that considered, I’m really excited to go home and take part in Thursday Night Family Dinner. I can’t wait to hear about everyone’s day, what’s on their mind, what’s going on. I can’t wait to be a part of their lives again, and have them a part of mine. I can’t wait for everyone to get to know Mike better, and for me to get to know his family better. And also? I can’t wait until the day we get to bring our own off-spring to dinner, Thursday nights and every night.*

*That’s at least twenty-two months away,** so don’t get excited.

**Not that I’m counting or anything.