We have had our first real days of summer this week. We haven’t had guests or camps or travel going on. We are taking a break from television and screens, and we are all home with a minimal to-do list. This leaves a lot of open time for spontaneous adventures, lingering around the dinner table, reading, gardening, swimming and creative projects. When I think of summer, these are the days that I dream of.
On Monday, Hazel suggested we take the family bike ride to the library near our house. She has asked to do this since we moved into the house last August. We adjusted bike seats and helmets, pumped up all the tires and eventually the four of us hit the road. I rode ahead with Hazel. Dave, brave and dedicated father that he is, jogged alongside our novice bike-rider, Nora, for the mile and a half to the mall. It was hot. Nora was nervous about the gravel path. He maintained his can-do attitude and patience despite the profuse sweating and whining that was happening around him.
The bike ride to the mall was a success, but everyone was worn out when we arrived. I could tell because of the children’s intense complaining and whining and other expressions of displeasure. The library was closed and we couldn’t buy any books at the book store. The $12 of snacks from whole foods were gross, too sweet, not what they wanted, but the expensive juice and bars managed to keep the family outing from completely derailing. Post-snack, we got back on the bikes to ride home. By the time we made it back, we were really worn out (and Dave was extremely sweaty).
I held strong this whole time, practically beaming positivity, but when it was lunchtime and the girls didn’t immediately come to the table, I raised my voice a little louder than necessary to call them a second time. Hazel and Dave sat down and watched me closely. They are very attune to my off-moods and were treading cautiously so I wouldn’t erupt. Nora, however, still didn’t come and so I mumbled something under my breath. Dave got up and went to collect Nora. She was in the bathroom, which is the only acceptable reason for not coming to the table. So we waited for Nora and my hunger and mood smoldered.
In that time, I watched how carefully Hazel and Dave acted in response to my bad mood- behavior. They listened closely to my tone of voice and even my breathing. They watched my face for any expression that might allow them an in for a funny remark or something to lighten the mood. Their eyes were locked onto me. In that moment, despite my impatience and my fiery hunger, I felt the weight and the responsibility of my position in their lives. Watching these dear ones watching me, I felt sadness for the years when my grouchiness could take over for hours at a time, unaware of how much this affected them. Sitting at the table, I felt, in the most profound way, that what I do and how I act really does matter.
I saw my choice: I could indulge my mood and leave them walking on eggshells, or I could do something different.
In a way that I couldn’t have done a few years ago, I stopped, and admitted to Dave and Hazel that I was a worn out and in a bad mood. They let out a collective sigh and replied, “Yeah, we can tell.” And that was all it took. Hazel invoked the pithy expression, If mama ain’t happy, nobody happy, and then we laughed. We laughed at Hazel’s cleverness. We laughed because we all know bad moods happen. We laughed, glad that these moods are temporary. And we laughed because we were finally relieved of the heaviness of the moment before. Nora came to the table, we held hands, gave thanks, and we ate together.