The best contract I ever wrote was entered into with my then five and nine year old children (and, yes, I am very aware that it was not legally enforceable, but it served its purpose well). At the time, a conversation common to many families was playing out in our house: our kids desperately wanted a puppy and we, the parents, were afraid of being solely responsible for the health and well being of one more living thing. Negotiations ensued. The end result was a new fluffy puppy and a one-page contract pursuant to which the children agreed to take on their share of day-to-day dog-rearing responsibilities.
Over time, some of the kids’ jobs fell by the wayside or were assumed by someone else. My husband made filling the dog’s dishes part of his evening routine, and judging from the amount of dog hair swept from the floor today, no one is keeping up with dog brushing duties. But this bit stuck: the nightly family dog walk.
It was easy to get all four of us plus our furry companion out on the greenbelt every night when the kids were in elementary school. These days, we usually only meet our full family quorum on hot summer nights when neither homework nor wet winter weather intervene. But this week, there was found time and an uncharacteristically warm spring night, so off we went, all of us, on our evening stroll. It was a perfect way to cap off a busy day, and if it ended there I still would have considered the night a tremendous success - family dinner AND family walk – like winning the lotto! But it got better.
We live in a world of hyper-scheduled parenting and family life. But there are some moments that can’t be planned, bought, scripted or orchestrated. After we landed back at home, I went outside to (literally) cool my heels in the pool. I watched our kids pour lemonade in the kitchen, fully expecting them to grab their glasses and retreat to their individual spaces and i-devices as soon as they were done. Instead, one child quietly came outside, soon followed by the other, with my husband and the dog not far behind. Without skipping a beat, we sat around the edge of the pool together, continuing our easy, winding conversation from the walk. It was awesome.
It was a gift.
We find ourselves in this weird, transitioning, middle space with our daughter leaving for college in a few months, and our son really not too very far behind. Like all parents, I have a lot of hopes for my children as they journey into their respective futures. But my most selfish desire is this: that even after they’ve built their own lives and formed their own families, every once in awhile we find ourselves together taking in the evening sky, simply delighting in each other’s company, and talking about everything or nothing at all. Again.