The 4th of July brings back lots of memories- from my own childhood, and from when my children were little. I didn’t realize how connected these fun times made me feel with my family until last week, when my older brother turned 50. When my aunt emailed everyone and asked us to meet at a local pizza parlor, I realized I was excited about our family getting together at a time other than Thanksgiving and Christmas. And that brought up my confusion when other people often tell me just how much they dread a family gathering.
My aunt once reflected to me that she loved to see me and my brothers at any family function, because as she put it “you drop right back into childhood play mode.” I know most of us drop back into our old roles in our families of origin and often chafe at the restrictions of how these self-and-other-imposed roles hold us to be someone whom we have outgrown. But I have the great fortune to come from a family that loves to play and laugh- and sees fun as a way to make any work seem lighter. I welcome the roles we offer each other as fellow playmates and fun-instigators.
After my grandpa died, my folks had a garage sale to sell some of the huge amount of stuff that Pop Bill had accumulated. Though it could have been a sad and dour occasion, we all showed up to help, and found ourselves rolling on the ground in giggles as we read a silly old joke book, or rode his electric cart down the street. We were having so much fun, several passers-by who stopped by the garage sale wound up staying for over an hour just to chat and laugh with us. My parents have always encouraged and joined in with humor and the ability to take ourselves lightly in a variety of circumstances. Thank Goodness- these moments are a huge part of the fondness that is tenderly connected to our family’s most treasured memories- some of which are at the time of grief, or serious need.
It doesn’t mean we don’t take somber times with thoughtful consideration, or appropriate emotion. It means we see humor as a critical coping tool and a binding force in the solidity of our relationships.
At my brother’s 50th birthday party, with the youngest of my nieces, nephews, and cousins being 18 years old, we had a giant napkin fight, we teased each other with birthday “tweeters” in the ear, and we gave gag gifts making fun of aging. We laughed, hugged, listened and shared a feeling of gratitude for the blessing of a family that chooses to celebrate each member’s uniqueness. I left giddy and happy, with the warm feelings of the play and smiles lingering long after I arrived home.
We have so much in life that is tragic. We have so many day to day chores and goals that must be taken with a serious view. We are surrounded by challenge, struggle and fears. In our long-term relationships, we often have to make heavy “withdrawals” from our “love banks” when it comes to compromise, setting boundaries, making amends for mistakes, or getting our own needs met. Without the “deposits” of fun, acceptance, laughter and even silliness- our relationship “accounts” run dry- there is nothing there from which to draw.
Our families can be a refuge of relief, offering a place to put worries on hold for a short time. Shared work and accomplishments are part of the equation. Serious intellectual exchanges, philosophical discussions, lectures on morals and values are all important factors- but without fun together, the family’s history offers no reason to return with loving anticipation. We need to allow play to fill us back up before we go back into the demands of our every day lives. Interactions that are only about the present moment, that have no end goal, that are savored in the process, not the product- this is play. This is the direct connection to our childhood wonder, our creativity, our joy.
Add more play, more fun to the equation of your relationships- the sum will be more than can be counted in tangible means and will offer the resiliency that our connections must have to endure. This is the currency by which our true wealth in our relationships is measured.