“Mom, can we please work on my science display tonight?” My ten year old daughter’s voice was pleading. She had excitedly brought home the project directions over a week before, and had been eager to begin creating a model of the solar system. She loves being crafty and could likely have finished the project in day or two without any assistance. However, the directions made it clear that this was a family project. On this night it happened that we were all at home, providing an ideal opportunity to work together. It was clearly time to begin the creative process.
Unfortunately, the rest of the family had their own plans for the evening. My husband had already announced his intention to surf musician gear websites, and an evening of family crafting couldn’t compete with our teenager’s desire to play video games. A good book was calling my name and I wanted to answer it. Nothing urgent, nothing important, just some activities we had set our minds and hearts on. We’re a family that enjoys spending time together, but on this night nobody had any real desire to partake in a school assigned family night. I scrambled to manufacture some fake enthusiasm.
“Of course,” I said with a false smile pasted on my face. “But maybe you could just get started without us, for a little bit?”
My daughter’s response was read dutifully from the assignment sheet. “Remember, you are to help with the project and have fun with your child.” She fixed me with a look that I know she learned from watching me.
Our family gathered at the kitchen table. I covered it with old newspapers and then spread before us the materials that we had scrounged up from various corners of our home: bamboo kabob skewers, a few large Styrofoam balls, lots of paint, a few paintbrushes, some old wire, and various spherically shaped objects such as bouncy balls, beads and the like. We now needed to come to agreement and decide how we would transform this mish mash of supplies into something that resembled the planets in orbit.
Chaos ruled. Disagreements arose regarding the best way to assemble the planets. My son was developing amazingly intricate plans and trying to superimpose his ideas on his sister, who seemed to take perverse delight in shooting down all his suggestions. I was fussing over the paint that kept getting on the table while the dog happily ate the tiny beads that were rolling onto the floor. Our daughter’s inability to settle on a design plan threatened my husband’s patience. It became necessary to institute a ban on jokes that relied on the use of “Uranus” in the punch line.
And now we come to the part of this story, where – ideally – an epiphany should occur. The stage is set for the moment where we, the family, collectively realize that we are being ignorant. With touching emotion, we all confess our selfishness, forgive one another and then have THE BEST NIGHT EVER, complete with a rousing group sing around a bowl of buttered popcorn. It’s my big opportunity to redeem myself by presenting my transformation from the selfish, cranky mom who’d rather read a book into the mother-of the-year who leads her family to higher moral ground.
Sorry to disappoint, but that’s not what happened.
We didn’t even finish the project that night; we ended up throwing in the towel halfway through and coming back to finish it a few days later. Oh, we settled down a bit and managed to get some work done in spite of ourselves. We even had some laughs and a few genuine moments of cooperation. By the evening’s end, most of the ruffled feathers had been smoothed. But that Norman Rockwell moment of family togetherness? Never happened.
At our house, we laugh a lot, but we also yell sometimes, and frequently interrupt one another. We jump moment to moment from love, to anger, and then on to silliness. There are days when I can’t imagine being anywhere else in the world, and there are days when I fantasize about getting my own apartment. My kids will battle each other tooth and nail for the last cookie, but stand united when faced with a bully on the school bus. Sometimes our individual egos are so inflated that I’m surprised we can all fit in the same room together. But when we have a bad day, we can’t wait to come home because we know that’s where the best hugs are. In short, we have plenty of good qualities, but a fair assortment of bad ones, too.
We love each other imperfectly, but abundantly. Maybe I’m kidding myself, but I don’t think it gets any better than that.