My husband came upstairs and found me folding in the laundry room. (If ever you are looking for me, it's a safe bet-- I am probably folding in the laundry room.) "It's so sweet," he stage whispered. "You have to some see-- it's so sweet!" I went to see, but I already knew what he was going to show me. I knew because just a few minutes earlier I had been listening outside the den door and I'd had the same reaction as Dad.
Our two middle children, 11-year-old Benjamin and 14-year-old Elisabeth, were watching an NFL playoff game... together. Elisabeth was asking questions and Benjamin was answering the questions, throwing in colorful quips about the strongest players and the playing histories of the teams. It was a rare scene, a welcome scene. When I first heard it, it stopped me in my tracks, and stopped me altogether from scolding them for sitting on their rears, staring at a screen, doing nothing productive. I let them be... together. Dad was in the den, watching the game with those two kiddos, until he slunk away to find me and tell me how they were getting along... together.
Football is one thing. Being football fans is something totally new to our family. Neither Todd nor I was never much into football. I was raised in a home with a sports-minded father and brother, and Todd's dad followed the home teams, but it certainly never bothered me that Krinkeland wasn't into football. It left Sundays open for Jesus and brunch and shopping and playing cards and folding laundry. But, then Benjamin began to show an interest in football, and, when he gets an idea in his brain, there's no getting it out. So, he watches some games and texts his grandpa and masters the Xbox football games. Now, I have never noticed Libby showing an interest in football until today. I don't know if she's looking to impress Grandpa or some boy, or if she just wants to keep up on the cousins' conversations, or if she's just utterly bored, but it does not matter. What matters is that they are getting along and enjoying time together.
Years ago, I attended a parenting talk by a popular priest who was also a radio host. Yes, I still giggle over the idea that a priest would be an expert in parenting... but it was really more about fostering spirituality in the family. There was a huge crowd and a good discussion, but nothing earth-shattering. Of course, my children were very young at the time, and I didn't have so many of them, so most of Krinkeland's big, looming crises had to do with potty-training and avoiding choking hazards. During the question-and-answer portion of the event, a man stood and went to the microphone. He was middle-aged, dressed in a worn flannel and work boots, soft-spoken. "Father, we need your help," the man said plainly. "My children don't like each other. Is there anything their mother and I can do?"
He explained how his three children, now grown, had had a challenging, but not uncomfortable, upbringing. He said all their needs were provided, discipline was fair and equitable, and everyone knew they were loved. However, as they grew, they all just seemed to not care for one another. They fought. They did not help one another. It was a heartbreaking story. As you might imagine, the priest did not, could not instantly solve the problem. The man and his question has stuck with me as my own family has grown.
Just this week, I pulled my two youngest children out of the backseat because they were beating on each other over who got to sit on the right. Earlier today, one child told me she couldn't decide what she didn't want to do more: stay home alone or watch her brother's basketball game. I also overheard one sibling ask another, "Hey, want to do something?" And the other mumbled, "Nah," and went back to her show. When the two oldest girls were preschoolers and would fight over a toy or call names, I would make them sit on the sofa holding hands until they both apologized. When they got into middle school, the same two were once so vicious throwing barbs at one another that I forced them to sit at the kitchen table and each make a list of the other's positive attributes.
I know they love one another. I hope. It often seems they do not like one another. I carry that other dad's pain with me, and I vow to work harder to make sure that is not the way of Krinkeland. My husband's observation and joy tonight is a good sign. I won't make them fold laundry with me, or finish packing away the Christmas decorations, or get a jump-start on spelling practice. I will just let them enjoy football together. And I'll smile from the other side of the door.