When I was a kid, my mother had a gorgeous set of fine china. At least, I think it was gorgeous. Actually, I’m not really sure. All I know is that she kept it in a dusty drawer at a hard to reach spot in our dining room hutch. I remember seeing the set once, arrayed around our dining table like museum pieces under glass. Everything matched and the utensils sparkled. I don’t remember the guests we hosted, for whom these place settings were arranged. All I remember is the feeling of second place. But my mother never made me feel “second fiddle.” So why did this classy china outclass me? Maybe because it came out so rarely and only for relative strangers? But didn’t our family deserve “first place” in the place settings?
Now, before we start arguing over etiquette and the value of holding something back to make it more special, humor me for a second.
I spend a great deal of time at work with The Piano Guys straining every creative synapsis in my brain. When I get home from tour or from the studio I often feel completely drained and sapped of all strength. My mind can feel like it’s a piece of ripe fruit with the juice squeezed out and the rind tossed aside (10 points for the person that can name the obscure movie reference).
When I get home, my four kids all want to PLAY. So I suggest an expert-level game of hide and seek, but they know how that goes (I have a few places in our home with a stashed pillow where they might take forever to find me!) What they really want is CREATIVE dad, engaged and energetic dad — the guy that invents games on the spot that could go on forever. My best “china.” Not the paper plate leftovers. They want me to use my best self at home rather than “out there.”
These days if we’re not careful, home can become work and work can become home.¹
What a gift many of us have been given! To be working from home — both in one place. I say “gift,” because I’m striving to be positive, like a zookeeper whose office just got moved into the monkey enclosure saying, ‘Hey, at least there’s an all-you-can-eat-veggie-lunch included!’
You know what I’ve found REALLY difficult? Besides everything, I mean. It’s when I’m with kids and my mind is on my work. I call it “AWOL”: Absent Without Leaving. When my screen is getting in the way of those clear beautiful hazel eyes trying to find me in my face.
How do YOU handle this? How do you ensure that you are present with your loved ones when everything is mashed together like a good bowl of goulash? I’d love your thoughts and ideas (comment below).
One day I got tired of my absentee lameness and just threw my phone into a drawer and recruited the kids to help me put together a spontaneous “bicycle obstacle course” in the middle of our street, complete with cones, makeshift mini-games for extra points, and a dorky referee with a whistle and a stopwatch.
Being present is just the beginning. How are you handling the increased stress and worry levels crammed into tight spaces? It can be the perfect storm for familial conflict. I read that domestic violence has increased.² That makes me very sad. I think it’s important we be VERY mindful of our state of mind as we interact with each other during this time of close proximity. My wife and I have a rule that if we are at our limit, we put OURSELVES in timeout. Or I suppose we should call it “detention,” since work, home AND school have all collided!
Speaking of my wife, on a scale from 1 to 10, up until this point my respect for her has been an 11. Now it’s easily at a 19. A solid COVID-19.
Despite all of the challenges, WOW have there been some GOOD moments.
So good I want to grab hold of them and never let go. I hope you’ve had these too. I’ve tried to make mornings special. During normal school/work days morning can be frenetic. Eating breakfast together, praying together, planning the day together is so awesome. And even before that, my littlest one, Annie, will try to wake up before me, sneak into my bed and gently roll me over so she can steal my “warm spot” (as she calls it) and snag a little extra snuggle time before the day begins.
On Sundays, since churches are closed we’ve decided to have our own little “in-home mini worship service. If you haven’t tried this, I highly recommend it. Doesn’t have to be anything elaborate. Doesn’t even have to be strictly “religious.” We just put away our screens, sit in a circle, sing together, pray together, and talk about what matters most to us: our faith, our hopes, dreams, fears, what we’re struggling with, what we’re grateful for, and what we love most about the world and each other. I can’t believe how special these powwows have been. Last Sunday, my little “warm spot finder” wanted to sing a song for our “musical number,” called Love One Another³. As she sang, tears came to my eyes. Everything sad, discouraging, worrisome, maddening, and stressful melted away. And only the purity of what’s most important surfaced.
My heart found a warm spot.
And it wasn’t just me. I looked around and could see that we were all lapping up generous helpings of all that is still good in this world, like sweet all-you-can-eat fruit, served on fine china that we shared with each other. Without reservation.
I coaxed her into singing a version for you (and she even let me play along! Video credit: my son)
Enjoy. And remember to put family in “first place.” Remember to Love One Another⁴. At home, at school, at work. Or, in this “warm spot” we’re now living in, all three at once.
P.S. This blog stemmed from a suggestion offered by Toni Dee Peterson. Thank you, Toni! What should I write about next? Text me your idea: 801-217-9512 (If you haven’t texted me before when you send a text I’ll walk you through adding your number to my contacts.)
¹ Sociologist Arlie Hochschild wrote a great book about this called The Time Bind. Highly recommend to any workaholic who might be reading this.