They gathered, a bit blurry-eyed. It was early for a Saturday morning. Brian was the first to arrive, he is always first. Allie showed up next. Steph and Tyler brought a friend, and Teddy stayed with Auntie Kim. In the early morning gloom, they ate donuts, swigged the coffee and hot chocolate they brought with them. They were here to help their dad regrade the long winding driveway. Ten yards of gravel had been delivered and the bright yellow tractor was on hand for the weekend. They were here to work.
For hours, they shovelled gravel and moved it using our lawn tractor as well as the rented machine Keith drove with a grin. Thankfully, the weather had cooperated, and the heatwave was over. As they gathered on the front porch at lunchtime, the kids laughed, Tyler talked, and Keith smiled at their company. By early afternoon, the ruts and gullies in the driveway were smoothed out for another couple years. The kids headed back into their lives.
As Keith and I crawled into bed, after the long days of work, he said, “It was a good weekend.” “Yeah?” I said. “What made it good?” He answered, “They are a great team when they all show up and work together.” He went on, “They didn’t fight, they didn’t fuss, they just worked with me to get it done.” It doesn’t take much to make him happy. A tractor and a handful of adult kids willing to spend their Saturday moving gravel.
But it wasn’t just the gravel. They also all showed up to move Allie’s belongings twice in a week. Out of one third-floor apartment, home for a bit, and then into the third-floor apartment. In July it was Brian loading boxes into a rental van while Steph and Tyler signed papers on their new house. Allie and I arrived early the next morning to help put it all away. In June, they all spent the day erecting a massive fence around Brian and Kaitlyn’s front yard to enclose the dogs. The bi-annual “poop party” at the farm is scheduled for October 6.
We are finding our way. I don’t think we realized how hard the adjustment would be to add three new family members in just over a year. We never thought about how new people would shift and change our old ways of being. Family life in this season is wider and deeper and a bit unwieldy at times. Managing schedules, expectations, and old habits take time and intention. There have been many times, I didn’t think we would make it.
When Keith and I were in our twenties, we did not know that this was a natural part of the lifespan of a family. We saw family relationships wither and break over time. We hoped that our children might choose another path. So many nights over the past few years, I cried myself to sleep over these three cherubs that inflict such pain in each other’s lives. Just a few months ago, when the door slammed shut with Easter dinner still on the table, I felt as though it might not be worth the effort.
For me, the problem remains. I don’t get to control this. They get to choose to be in each other’s lives or not. If they decide to fight and fuss, to wring each other out over and over, there is little I can do to stop it. I hate that, but I am certain that my involvement adds nothing more than a chance to refuel the rivalries of childhood. So, although it is my nature to jump in and try to wrestle them to the ground, I’ve bit my tongue until it bled but have rarely stepped into the fray.
The other night, I said something to Allie about the changing dynamics in the family. She said, “We’re family. That’s all.” To me, they seem so cavalier about these relationships, as though they are made of steel. They lean on them as though they could not break, secure in their history as well as their future. I am not so confident, instead, I remind them that our family is only as strong as the weakest relationship. I caution them to think about the kind of family they want to have, for themselves, for their children.
I am certain, they all long for a family that is deep and wide. We’ve talked about the ways they want to raise their children, the ways they want to participate in life together. It isn’t in the intention that it breaks down, but in the execution. It is easy to fall back into established patterns, and easy grudges. It is harder to forge new relationships out of the old.
A few years ago, Keith and his brother decided to reprioritize their friendship, to dust it off after decades of raising kids and building lives. For months, it looked like Keith walked a bit taller, his shoulders seemed a bit straighter. When I asked him about it, he talked about the way this friendship changed him. How it made him feel stronger in the world. It made me sad to think about all the years they had missed out on the power of this relationship, and grateful that they had reconnected and recommitted to each other.
Watching the relationships between my children and their spouses develop and strengthen, has brought me great comfort. This year has made life seem all the more fragile and precious. None of us knows what the future holds, but there is something about walking forward knowing that there are a few people upon whom you will always be able to depend. We are blessed to have that in our lives, and we pray that they will work for the kinds of bonds that only strengthen over time. I think these are relationships worth working for.