A few nights ago, after all the bedtime chores had been accomplished, the five of us sat around in Jay and Wally’s room. Caroline was on one of their beds, I was on the other. The boys were moving around, but not that much, sometimes tossing a ball to Leo, who’d hurl it back, sometimes not doing much at all.
The moment was notable for a couple reasons. The first is that it’s extremely rare that we spend time together as a family doing nothing. We are in each other’s company many hours each day, but almost all of that time is tagged with a purpose – we’re executing the morning routine or the afternoon routine or the bedroom routine or we’re reading with the boys, playing chess with them, ferrying them to music lessons or sports practices. In all those things we’re together, but the point isn’t that we’re together. That fact is incidental to the accomplishment of something else.
And so the other night, when we suddenly and for no particular reason found ourselves together doing nothing, it felt as unfamiliar as a trip to a foreign country.
The second notable thing about the experience was how hard it was to maintain. On the one hand you had me, sitting on the bed, eyeing the little digital clock on Jay’s bedside table. I was aware both that the boys’ need their sleep and that I was ready to commence eating ice cream. On the other, you had the boys themselves, who can’t maintain equilibrium for long. Maybe Leo got tired of sitting with Caroline and started pulling treasures from his brothers’ special drawers. Or maybe Wally started humming, which caused Jay to complain, which caused me and Caroline to lock eyes: That was nice while it lasted.
Later that night, after everyone was indeed asleep, Caroline and I talked about how we hope that it’s only going to get easier to waste time together as a family. Leo’s going to mature, of that I’m confident. And I think there’s a pretty good chance, too, that as Jay and Wally season, they’ll get a little better at staying out of each other’s way.
We also talked about why it felt so good to have even 10 minutes together when we were doing nothing. When we’re busy all the time I feel like our family life lacks density. I could imagine Jay, Wally, and Leo looking back on their childhoods as a series of activities, like points on a grid, all lined up in the right order, but with too much space between them.
And what is it that falls through in such an arrangement? I think it might be a sense of who you are. Caroline said she’d like the boys to feel that during their childhoods, the place they were most understood in the world was in a room with their parents and each other and nothing else much going on. It’s the kind of feeling, like gravity, that maybe would keep them wanting to come back, even when they don’t have to anymore.