Making Time for the Family
I am standing in the middle of a beautiful field of green. It is a sunny blue-sky day, and my 19-year-old son is explaining why he doesn't want to spend a week with his 9-year-old sister and me.
"It's too late," he says.
"What do you mean it's too late?" I ask.
It has been years since I have taken time off with my children. They are busy with school and sports, and the back and forth to daddy's house. I am busy building a business, adjusting to my changing hormones and running to court with an angry ex who wants to destroy me. My schedule is killing me. Up at 5. Work. Litigation. Children's homework. Get ready for the show. Nails. Eyebrows. Clothes. My daughter's uniform needs to be ironed. I have to testify that I am a good and dutiful mother. My babysitter quits. Oh no. No groceries! My mother is mad at me. I have three books that are crashing on a tight schedule, and the art director, a single man with no responsibilities, wants to take a sabbatical to meditate in India. This life is getting to be too much for him.
And now, out of the mouths of babes, my 6-foot-2-inch tall babe, comes this:
"It's too late."
"For years, mom, I waited for you to get home from work. I wouldn't go to sleep till you got home. I waited for you to stop grocery shopping and working weekends and never having time. And I don't begrudge you any of it because it gave me opportunities I never would have had, and I thank you for making all those sacrifices so I could have all this ... But it's too late."
I look at him with the afternoon sun on his face, tanned and fit, strong and handsome, a great student, a gentleman to women, with the best the world has to offer, and yet, it is true. I have failed him. And I know it. Mommy, read to me. I can't. I have to finish this. Mommy, tell me a story. Maybe tomorrow. Mommy, why won't dad visit me? It's not your fault. Mommy, will you sleep with me till the sun comes up? I can't. Not now. Go to bed. Maybe later. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe next week. After I clean the house. After I finish this proposal. After the big meeting. After my divorce. Maybe when I feel better and have more energy. It's too late. I'm all grown up. You missed my childhood. You were too busy. The moment is frozen in my mind as he looks at me, towering over me and finally able to say it. It's too late. I'm not going. I have other things to do now.
I remember a time when I had time. Every Sunday, my large Italian family would gather, after church, and we would feast. Long tables of food, fresh baked bread, tomatoes from the garden, homemade wine from my grandfather's purple grapes, huge bowls of salad, and cousins everywhere. We would feast, three generations, joined together. Aunts, uncles, grandparents, parents, neighbors, second and third cousins. And we would play. Mangia! Eat! Every weekend, despite the struggles of the week, life, we reminded ourselves, was beautiful.
What happened to that family? What happened to those Sundays? What happened to us? The relatives are gone. Many have moved away. Some have died. Very few are still married. Many of the fathers haven't seen or called their children in years. Sometimes, at funerals, we bump into each other, and we are amazed. Who are these people who have grown so old? Are these the children who played hide and seek? Are those my cousins who squeezed into a single bed while our parents stayed up all night talking in the kitchen?
We are the children who have more money than our parents. We have stock. We have options. We can have children at any age. We refuse to age. We have frequent flier miles and Palm Pilots and dazzling lives. We live in a world never imagined by our immigrant grandparents who fled poverty, oppression, illiteracy, war and famine.
Our children know little of their great grandparents' world. They are little blade runners, immersed in their own stunning and constantly entertaining, high speed lives. They are world travelers, surfing through a mélange of exciting images, negotiating their way through hundreds of channels and billions of Internet images, all with endless possibility. And yet ...
"Mommy. I'm bored," my daughter announces after a day of video arcades, roller blading, eating out and instant messaging her friends. She is, at age 9, suffering from a modern condition, what the ancient monks called acedia. She is bored to death while being bombarded by stimulation. What can I say? If you are bored, it means that you have too much. Sweetie. I love you, but I'm spoiling you rotten. My child, do you not know what value your life has?
I say nothing. I say nothing because I fear that I have failed her. I have failed to teach her the meaning of life. To show her what my grandparents showed me. They are not here when she gets home from school. No one who cares is. I am at work. I have no time. No time for my family. No time to breathe. No time to think. 'No time' is my generation's bragging right.
I miss my grandmother. I dream about Friday afternoons with her, kneading big vats of dough in the kitchen. I miss playing cards with Uncle Phillie. I miss picking blueberries with pa and making forts with my brothers. I miss the snowball fights. And when things get rough in court, I think about those Sundays, lounging on a bed of plush, velvet green moss, staring at the blue sky, rested.
It is Friday, and I am enjoying a Sabbath dinner with a rabbi and his family. I am invited to celebrate their joy. The food is beautiful. Their six children are enchanting. They remind me of growing up in my own family of five children. I watch as each child is blessed by his or her father. I see how much they are loved and cherished. My spirit aches for a weekly ritual that honors tradition, a Sabbath night that is an invitation to joy. Here candles are lit, songs are sung, and we are reminded of the meaning of life. Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy. These are the words which the lord has commanded. Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be to you a holy day, a Sabbath of solemn rest to the lord; whosoever doeth any work therein, shall be put to death.
My family has been put to death. My daughter is bored. My son says it's too late. And I am exhausted. We live in a 24-hour-you-can-have-whatever-you-want-delivered-right-now culture, but we have no pleasure. Our death is the spiritual wilderness in which we roam, searching for a moment of human connection in a morass of materialism.
I love sharing a Sabbath dinner with the rabbi's family. His children remind me of what is possible. His wife knows that she is loved. And it is on this night that I see a ray of light in the kindness of husband and wife, parent and child, friend and friend. And I know that despite the spiritual wilderness in which I roam, I know where I must go. Where we must go. We should follow the light I see in the faces of those children as their father blesses them, the light that infuses our lives with meaning.