A couple of years ago my mother-in-law reacted to the fact that her offspring--who were preoccupied with the raising of their own families--didn't return to the nest often enough by putting into place a fairly convoluted set of parameters. Just like Homeland Security has found it advantageous to give us a color-based warning system, my mother-in-law instituted a four-tier set of guidelines to keep in mind when planning time with her and her husband.
FAMILY TIME--This is stopping by to say hello, randomly offering to pick up Chinese and eat it at their house, or deciding to take in a movie together. Since we lived 6 hours away at the time, we were not required to have FAMILY TIME.
SPECIAL TIME--One-on-one afternoons out (planned in advance), celebrating events like graduations or the birth of a child and coming in when out-of-town relatives visited all counted toward SPECIAL TIME. We were expected to participate in SPECIAL TIME on a monthly basis.
HOLIDAY TIME--Just as it sounds, HOLIDAY TIME is the spending of official celebratory days together. The list of holidays was decided on by my mil and included Memorial Day, Labor Day and even Valentine's Day. We were expected to take part in these days, but, alas, disappointment was often doled out.
SACRED TIME--The end-all-be-all, the highest tier and show of love, was the SACRED TIME. At this level of interaction, you are showing pure out and out devotion to the family. You are barbecuing in the yard for lunch and sticking around to clean up the dishes and then doing it all over again for dinner. You are not letting anything take you eyes of the intense, bonding time you experience with your family. Above all, you will not share this time with anyone outside of the family. You will want to set aside entire weekends for this, because ... well .. it's SACRED TIME.
At the time--with a baby on my hip, one in the womb and a preschooler scribbling on the table--I was more than flustered when the on-high resolution came down. "You will drive 6 hours one way at least twice a month to show that you are a part of this family!" flabbergasted me. My family is a lot of things (close-knit occasionally being one of them) but demanding, they are not. No one had ever in my life laid down the law on how and when and where and why I would participate in the act of being a good family member. Especially not with an actual hourly list of expectations attached.
We moved cross-country shortly after that, so in reality, the new rules of the game barely affected me. I know that the general set-up is still in play, though, because my mil will ocasionally slip and let us know that B. and G. came over for SACRED TIME, or point out that we are seriously delinquint in HOLIDAY TIME.
I can't say that I understand setting up an entire system outlining how to spend family time. But I can say now that I understand the motivation. While my own little nestlings are barely sprouting feathers, I am all too aware that soon enough, they will be flying solo. Taking longer and longer flights into the unknown. Making nests of their own. And yes, failing to return to the place where I nurtured them and loved them so freely and so well.
Yesterday, my friend J. and I were talking about how our boys, in particular, will grow. They will change physically and grow stubbly facial hair and tower over us. They will get sweaty and dirty and strong and tall. They will no doubt plant kisses on the tops of our heads and pretend to pick us up from time to time, just for laughs. Just writing this makes my heart want to burst ... because, of course, there is always the shadow of a chance that they won't.
My little birds could fly just as far and as wide as anyone else's. Or perhaps they will find roosts close enough by, but be busy with work and family and friends so much so that there is very little time for me in their "we."
Someday, I could be the lonely momma who feels at her wits' end. The mother who, perhaps late at night--perhaps in tears at a birthday that everyone forgot or a special day that passed by with no phone calls--scrawls out guidelines for how my children are to show me their love. I could feel forgotten. Abandoned. Unloved.
These are the things I think about as Mother's Day approaches. I'm not assuming that they will happen, mind you. I'm praying really hard that they don't, taking all the steps to ensure that we are as connected a family as you can find anywhere. But I am haunted by the fact that my mother-in-law didn't suspect, in all her years of mothering, that she would some day be writing down lists of how to spend time with her, either. She went about the day-to-day of her working mom life, assuming, all along, that in the end, as her grandchildren came into the world, there would be time enough to stop and finally enjoy the fruit. There would be long days of reveling in the good things that motherhood brings.
But none of us can be sure that that will ever come. We plant the seeds. We water. We tend, we support, we prune. But we can not make the garden that is our family flower. It's not in our hands at all.