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Friday, November 17, 2006

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Know when to hold 'em

Early this evening, we had friends over for pizza. Good friends. The kind with whom the conversation never really comes to an end; we just pick up where we last left off. It takes me by surprise sometimes, how long we've known each other. Long enough to feel like surrogate relatives to each other's children. Long enough to have celebrated plenty of good times and to have seen each other weather some not-so-good times. Long enough to expect we will all be around for more of both.

Patrick is an orphan. My surviving parent and one sibling live half a world away. In the absence of extended family, we have had to create one for ourselves. My involvement with institutional religion is in no small way a partial substitute for it. Our tribe of marrieds-with-children fills in as well. Within those broad circles, however, there are a very few, very special relationships that really feel like family. Our company tonight is one of those.

After pizza and getting caught up, I got out a board game for us to play with the kids. No one ever wants to play. Patrick groaned and protested audibly, but our guests were my prisoners. We set it up and played for as long as the kids attention spans would let us. I'm not saying it was the most exciting Friday night of my life, but we sat around the table with our kids in various configurations and had us a few laughs. It was the kind of low-fi moment that, track by track, lays down the overall temperature and tone of childhood memory. It was a good thing for us to do.

Sometimes you've got to lean on people a little. I have to be careful with this, because I have control issues, and a little can soon give way to a lot. But I remember hearing it said once that if everybody is always respecting each other's little line in the sand, nobody grows. I think knowing how far to stick your big toe over the line (and when to pull it back) is the trick both in marriage and in deep friendships.

It is no secret that my husband dislikes camping. Several weeks ago our resident cub scout had a pack camp-out on the calendar and I couldn't swing it. I mentioned it to Patrick, as in, "I don't suppose there is any way in hell....". I got the expected reaction and decided I might as well drop it then and there. Nine times out of ten this is the appropriate tack to take. Then I decided this was number ten.

I re-approached the issue a few days later. "I'm not telling you what to do," I said, "just hear me out." He wheeled himself back from his desk and looked at me with bemused wariness. I stuck my toe out, carefully, over the line.

"All I'm saying is, we only have a little window of time to make these memories. And you won't be able to go back and put them in if you have regrets about it later."

He sighed the sigh of the cornered. I retracted my toe quickly.

"Just think about it, is all. Whatever you decide, I'll be fine."

And then I really did drop it. It has taken me a long time, but I have finally started to clue into the value of just coming out and stating what you want. Sometimes, you even get it. Or at least what you need.

A couple of days after that, I was kissing them both goodbye as they pulled out of our driveway. No, Patrick did not have a wonderful, magical time. It was cold as hell and his back was out for a week. But I believe he would tell you it was worth it, and our son will never forget it.

Tonight's board game wasn't nearly as memorable. We might not remember the specifics of what we played or who won four weeks from now. But atmosphere lingers. When my little boys are men, I hope their childhood memories, however vague, will affirm that they grew up in the midst of people who loved them and each other enough to lean not just on, but sometimes against one another.

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Blogger Patrick said...

Control issues aside, how about giving me access to the NetFlix list?

8:27 AM  
Blogger marileeit said...

love it. it reminds me of our endless games of trivia pursuit at the breakfast nook at the cottage. we'd be amazed to see the sun coming up........

3:58 PM  
Blogger charlotte said...

What a beautiful post. I love what you say about friends becoming family, about the many lo-fi moments that forge childhood memories and when to step over the line. Each could have been a post of its own - chewy, but filling, indeed!

I am an South African living in Germany and we too have made family from our friends. That's the way we cope with having our own families very far away.

11:55 PM  

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