Jan 13, 201708:00 AM
Living, loving, laughing, and learning in the new New Orleans
Not the “new year’s” kind
I didn’t make resolutions this year. If having a blended family of three kids ranging in age from 15 to 4 has taught me anything, it’s that sweeping changes are unlikely to stick. For the five years of our marriage, Robert and I have vowed – and not just at the start of a new year – to implement various things: family meetings, family dinners, schedules for cleaning the house, evening routines, slow-cooker freezer meal prep, more careful monthly budgeting, chore charts for the kids.
But the truth is that between our busy schedules and shared custody and the fact that the solutions are often way harder than fixing the problems as they arise, we have never consistently met any of these goals. It’s not that we don’t, intellectually, understand that a family meal is a great bonding time – it’s that Elliot has hours and hours of homework every night; Ruby has basketball practice till 6 p.m. and then a fair amount of homework herself; and Georgia only wants to eat cold, unseasoned tofu, hummus, or berries for every single meal. Usually Elliot eats in his room, Ruby eats sprawled on the living room floor, Robert and I eat in the breakfast nook, and Georgia jumps incessantly on her mini-trampoline because she doesn’t like anything being served.
Every week or so, I’ll say, “This is crazy. We’re a family! We need to eat dinner together at least one night a week.”
So we’ll try it for a couple of weeks before backsliding into old habits.
Or I’ll say, “Let’s start a new family tradition of going out for lunch on weekends when we have Elliot,” but before we even get out of the driveway, Georgia is crying, Ruby is sulking and Elliot is playing a game on his phone and trying to ignore everyone. Around five blocks into the trip, when Robert and I are alternating between yelling at the kids who are yelling at each other and yelling at each other because we are annoyed at the kids … well, it occurs to me why we don’t do this more often, and that’s even before we get the bill for lunch out for five people.
It’s not like we’re doing that badly, really, as a household, as a family. The kids are making good grades, the meals are getting made, the house is getting cleaned, the bills are getting paid. The family bonding is still happening – in the car on the way to school, at night as I’m reading stories, in the bathtub as Ruby helps Georgia wash her hair, on sleepy Saturday mornings when we stay in our pajamas all day, in the kitchen when Ruby practices her spelling words with Elliot.
Nothing is so disastrous that we have to change it; it’s just this vague lingering sense that there must be a better way, that if we could actually plan and prep our meals and have a schedule of who cleaned the kitchen on which nights and have a minute-by-minute evening agenda for all of the kids, our lives might be less chaotic. I sometimes find myself running around at 11 p.m. pulling school uniforms out of the dryers and packing snacks and loading the dishwasher and making sure school library books are in their bags to be returned on time and sweeping up spilled rice from dinner and crumbled pretzels from an after-school snack … and I wonder if I’m making it harder than it needs to be. Or maybe it’s just supposed to be hard right now, at this stage of everyone’s life.
I visited my best friend over the summer, and her evenings are much more structured: She cooks, they all eat a family dinner, her husband does the dishes while she puts their daughters to bed, and then she and her husband have a couple of hours together at the end of the night to talk and drink wine and watch TV and relax. It seemed so nice and predictable and peaceful – I really enjoyed it while I was staying with them. Sometimes I wonder if we could make that work in our house. But then again, she and her husband aren’t me and Robert, and their kids aren’t our kids. I tried to imagine taking their routine and superimposing it on our lifestyle and habits … and I just couldn’t make it fit with who we are as a family.
I think, if I make a resolution this year, it’s to work less on changing our lifestyles and more on just loving us as we are. We’re messy and frazzled and loud and disorganized – and we’re us. We’re a family. We’re doing OK.