There comes a point in your child’s development when having one of their friends over shifts for parents from a burden to a blessing. For my boys, at around age 7, a play date no longer meant that we had to entertain for two, invent or negotiate activities, or remind our young guests to use the bathroom. Rather, if the friend was a good match, the children would disappear for hours, lost in whatever fun they made for themselves and surface only when they were hungry, at which point we would happily feed them. It was a wonderful dynamic, one that we embraced wholeheartedly, mainly because if both boys were occupied with respective buddies, they didn’t bicker with one another. We called lovingly call these types of friends “buffers.” As the boys got older, we welcomed, even sought out, these buffers beyond the standard play date. We brought them along when going out to dinner, on family outings, and even on longer vacations. Give the efficacy of the buffer, we rarely deny our kids when they ask if they can “bring a friend.” And I know that my boys serve as buffers for other families. It just works.
Around the same time as we were availing ourselves to the children’s buffers, Dave and I were developing our own. The kids were completely occupied, leaving us with little responsibility and plenty of time. We filled that time with our own friends – most often (and conveniently) with the parents of the child buffers. We no longer just ask which child friend wants to accompany us for pizza on Friday night; we ask their parents to join as well. As for family outings and trips, we have limited ourselves to excursions where others will join or meet us along the way – if not friends, then family. Everyone is happier when other people are around. We have been operating this way for years, without even thinking twice about it. So I had to ask myself:
What the hell is wrong with us? Do we really NOT like each other?
The question hit me square in the heart when we were planning a few days at my Dad’s summer house this past weekend. Our initial instinct to invite buffers to join us was strong, but our execution was weak and for a number of reasons we found ourselves packing up as a family of four with no outside prospects to join us. I didn’t realize how frightened I was of our ability (or lack thereof) to get along for a few days as a pure familial unit. But in the days leading up to our getaway, the tension inside my own head was palpable. The boys would fight. Dave and I would tolerate. We would get bored of one another. There would be stress. Vacation days would be for naught. I steeled myself for a long “long weekend.”
As we were packing the car and the boys started in on who was going to sit on which side of the back seat, I calmly informed them that if they ruined the weekend with petty bickering, I would unleash the full wrath of all Mommyhood upon them, without mercy and, if possible, in public.
From then on, we were good. In fact, we were more than good. We were a family. And my trepidation turned to shame for not trusting the ties that gently and forever tether us together.
Buffers are great but they do indeed keep us from interacting with one another. Had we had friends along on this trip, I wouldn’t have gotten a chance to spend one-on-one time with Noah, who was kind enough to share his favorite memes with me as we jumped from the swimming pool to the hot tub on Saturday afternoon while Dave and Chase had a chance to go crabbing. We may not have been able to go to the cool Latin American Japanese restaurant which we all loved but others may have chosen. Our respective skee ball scores may have gone unnoticed had there been others playing besides ourselves. And I certainly wouldn’t have been able to run my fingers through Chase’s hair or give Noah a kiss goodnight in the presence of buddies. I didn’t realize how much I miss doing that.
We collectively rolled our eyes at Chase when he got silly, the boys let me take a long nap after a huge breakfast, Noah tried to teach me how to master the stand up paddle board, Dave and the guys did major go-karts, and I woke the boys up each day with a morning back scratch.
I love my family – but I like them an awful lot as well. We have a rhythm and melody about us that rarely plays uninterrupted. But when it does, its like a favorite tune playing in a department store. It is almost too soft to notice but when you do, it puts a smile on your face. Ours may not always be the smoothest of songs but we all know from where the next note – be it a high or low one –is coming. Your family gets the very best and very worst of you – but always the “most real” of you, especially when no one is watching. And those uncensored, unfiltered versions of us need more airtime.
Just as children develop and marriages evolve, so too do families. And I think we might be entering another phase, brought on in part by this simple time we spent together. As our boys hurtle towards college there will be no shortage of buffers from which to choose. But the mother of all buffers will come when they leave the nest and start their own lives, leaving me with no choice but to let them. These next few years are our time and I don’t want to squander it. I don’t think we will abandon our friends in any big way, but I do want to commit to spending more time alone together.
Mendell. Party of Four. I like the sound of that.