Late in the afternoon on Tuesday I plopped down onto the couch next to Hannah with my cup of tea and asked, "So... is this working, the way we're doing this lately? Does it feel like we're doing it... right?" Discomfort flashed across her face -- I'd hit some kind of nerve, I knew she felt it too. A moment passed by, and then we both said at the same time, "We need to have a meeting!"
Nearly eight years we've been getting together with our kids one or two times a week to share our days. Back when we each had one baby boy, we set out to create a "tribe:" a tiny network of relationships, a new, chosen, extended family, to stand in for the one we didn't really have in town. We (and our husbands) committed to spending a huge amount of time together, far more than is usual in our culture; we committed to trust one another and to be trustworthy; we committed to heavy entanglement. We committed to going beyond the level of playdates and Moms Of Tots groups, to creating real connection, shared work, shared purpose.
It's paid off. But it does take work. As our families have grown and our responsibilities have changed, we've tweaked our schedules, revised our expectations, gone back again and again to the reasons we started doing this in the first place. And so this isn't the first time we've had to have A Meeting.
What's going on now? School. Everything's been subsumed by School Time.
Last year and the year before, our highest priority was Get the School Work Done. We and our two biggest boys had to learn to Do School side by side. This year the boys are in third grade, and their workload is much heavier; and our next two boys, kindergartenerish, are coming up behind them. It was important work, while we were learning it, but... is it still the most important investment we can be making during the hours we are together?
As we drained our tea cups and moved to the kitchen to unload the dishwasher together, we thought over the past few weeks...
"We haven't been sitting down together for a cup of tea when I first arrive! We've just been jumping right into the work!"
"And have you noticed -- we're not cooking together. We're not doing housework together. We're not teaching together. We've been dividing up the work. 'You read to the girls while I teach Oscar. I'll make the dinner while you teach Silas.' We started doing this so we could work side by side. I can do things ALONE at my OWN house."
"And we've been classifying the kids -- especially the little ones -- as jobs that need to be taken care of, like the laundry. And we keep shooing them away so we can get done whatever is on our list right now."
"And it's never going to work because at any point in time there are only two of us and there are six kids."
"All schedule and to-do list. No flow."
"And have you noticed that when we say 'you do this and I'll do that,' when something comes up, like if Mary Jane comes and says she needs something, we are each trying to send her to the other mom for help?"
"And have you noticed that we aren't at all involved in each other's kids' schoolwork, except for the one subject we're doing together? I mean, I don't have the slightest idea what your boys are studying for science this year, even though we've been doing school together for weeks now."
"And I've been feeling so exhausted at the end of my days with you. I've just been telling myself 'It's school, it's that my house isn't organized.' I've been accepting that it has to be that way."
"It doesn't have to be that way. We are doing this for a reason, and it's not 'get the schoolwork done at all costs.' We need to go back to our principles."
"Yes. We need to go back to the reasons we do this, and change things so that they give us what we need. What we are looking for."
* * *
That was Tuesday. Yesterday we were together at my house. Our Meeting (dinner and coffee out while the men play chess care for the children) is scheduled for early next week, but even without a plan, we both know it would be dumb to spend even one more day doing things the same. So as Hannah was pulling her bags out of her car I called from my porch, "Hello! What say we SIT DOWN and have a CUP OF COFFEE. TOGETHER." And she laughed. And we did have that cup of coffee. And then we plunged into our day, trying a little harder to do it together instead of separately.
* * *
"How was it today? Better?"
"Just as busy." (Sip of tea.) "But... more human."