When my kids first moved out of the house, I began to pour all of my emotional energy into dreaming about each return visit. I would spend weeks thinking about an upcoming holiday, planning every detail, and imagining how intensely I would enjoy every tiny moment with my children around me once again.
Naturally, I was sometimes let down by the reality of the actual event. I built everything up so much that it was impossible for the real thing to live up to my dreams. I made every dinner, every visit, every holiday into such a huge production that the anxiety of the experience prevented me from really connecting with the kids.
I just made it too big.
I have learned, slowly, to let a dinner be just a nice dinner. To let Thanksgiving be a turkey and some laughs, instead of the answer to all of my prayers.
I have learned to sort of just dial it down when I see the kids. And that’s a good thing.
A few years ago, I went to my 35th high school reunion. Truth to tell, I didn’t want to even be there, but I went because my gregarious husband (who was also one of my classmates) was part of the planning committee. I went to the party, chatted with some of our old friends, but didn’t really connect too much with anyone. At the end of the night, one of our oldest friends had invited our entire old gang to his house for a weekend in the summer. “OK”, I thought, “sure.” A weekend together after 35 years. That should be stress free.
I put it out of my mind for about six months, but eventually I found myself standing awkwardly in the driveway of a beautiful house on Cape Cod, surrounded by people I had last partied with when we were seventeen. The first few hours were stilted, and off balance and strange. We tried to catch up on news of our children, our careers, our parents. We remembered our time together all those years ago. We laughed a bit, but we all felt the pressure. Each of us, in our own way, was trying to live up the high expectations that we had for the weekend. Each of us, I later found out, had come to the weekend with a sense of dread and excitement. This would either be a horrible mistake or the best weekend of our lives. We didn’t really have a middle ground.
Since that summer weekend five years ago, my group of old friends has managed to get together for dinner a few times. People have flown in for a weekend, and we have begun to actually become friends again. New friends. Without the pressure of the past on our shoulders.
We are learning to just dial it down a notch, to casually send each other a text or an email, to call for a last minute dinner date.
When my father died five years ago, everything for my family changed. All six of his children felt the pain of his loss intensely. Every family gathering after his death was fraught with emotion, filled with tears and sorrow and shared memories. Each time that all of us gathered, we all felt the pressure to make the event special and meaningful and affirming. We made it all too big. Every dinner, every holiday, every gathering was filled with too much of everything.
But a few weeks ago, one of my brothers (the smart one, I guess!) suggested that the six of us start gathering once a month at Mom’s house for dinner. Just once a month. We’d all try to be there, but there was no pressure. Our spouses could come if they were free. Our children could come if they wanted to. There was no command performance feel to it, no pressure to make everything be just so.
Today we all got together at Mom’s. Everyone brought something, everyone sat around the table eating, chatting, comparing notes on the Red Sox pennant win last night. It was really nice.
But it wasn’t any big thing. It was just dinner at Mom’s. We just dialed it down and made it comfortable.
I’m learning, I guess. I’m finally learning.