Finding the flow in family togetherness

Published 3:33 pm Saturday, January 27, 2018

My kids and I spent a lot of quality time together in the early days of this new year. Their dad left town on a business trip just as the flu and the bad weather hit — well played, sir, well played — and my parents were leveled by said flu. So it the four of us found ourselves hunkered down together for more days in a row than we’d grown accustomed to.

There’s an entirely predictable bell curve to long stretches of family togetherness in our house. We start low because transitions are hard. There were tears at the prospect of Daddy’s absence and the inevitable jockeying for position that takes place as the kids settle back into a different environment with different bedroom-sharing arrangements, different toys and different favorite spots on the couch. There was the immediate testing of household rules — just to be sure they were still there. Oh, you mean it’s still not okay to jump up and down on the coffee table? Good to know, Mom. Just checking…

The last day is also bumpy. It’s the day when you’ve been cooped up together for a week and sometimes it’s been too cold to go outside, everyone is bored and the house is a mess.  Mandatory cleanup time is enforced and everyone is desperate to go back to school, eager to go back to work and just done with how loudly everybody else chews their breakfast cereal.

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But in the middle — between the emotional beginning and the rocky end — that’s where the magic happens. The middle days are when we find our flow. I love the concept of “flow.” It’s when you’re engaged in something you want to be doing, or something you excel at, and you find your rhythm. Everything clicks and suddenly it’s easy and you could go on forever. Runners experience it as they pound the pavement. Pastors experience it when they’re writing a good sermon. And families experience it on day three of a long stretch of co-habitation.

Somewhere in the middle of the long snowy weekend, we found our groove. I could feel it settle into place. I woke to the sound of the kids playing Legos in the art room — rather than to the sound of an argument barreling into my room at top volume. Board games were played without fist fights breaking out. My older daughter voluntarily played dolls with her little sister. Bedtime was relaxed and lacking in temper tantrums.

My job when the household hits flow is to stay out of the way. Don’t disturb it. Don’t interfere. I usually do this by staying busy. I tidied up my den and did laundry. I baked all the things — scones and apple crisp and cookies — and made soup, hot chocolate and microwave popcorn for the cold and weary explorers.

My secondary job is to chill out. Our flow days involved a lot of screen time. Sure, my kids went sledding for hours at a time (in 20 degree weather — oops) and read books, did puzzles and colored pictures. But we also watched a lot of movies and played a lot of games on our respective tablets. Cartoon cows got their toenails painted, supervillains were defeated with martial arts moves and Daniel Tiger got dressed for bedtime. Repeatedly.

Usually I impose strict limits on screen time but let me tell you right now — wrestling a Kindle out of your 7-year-old’s hands because the 30-minute daily allotment has been used up is not conducive to flow. So I relaxed. And they relaxed. And as far as I can tell, nobody lost a noticeable amount of brain cells in the process, so I think we’ll be OK.

I need those moments of flow. During the hustle and bustle and back and forth of our daily lives, it can be elusive. So I offer my gratitude to Mother Nature for giving us the chance to enjoy a few harmonious days together.

And now I’m ready for spring, please.