Maybe I just can’t take a compliment

Recently, an acquaintance of mine gave me a knock-you-over, stop-breathing kind of compliment. As a single woman with marriage likely in her near future, she said, and I quote, “I love what you guys have. I want a family just like yours.”

More specifically, she explained, she wanted the relaxed, convivial atmosphere she felt in our home, the freedom for creativity. And then? Then, she asked me How To Do It.

At this point, I could hardly formulate a response because my head was buzzing with appreciation for someone noticing how hard we try, anxiety over the weak spots she’s never seen, a generous dose of pride already suggesting pompous advice we could hand out…

But mostly, I just wanted to burst out laughing and say, “Are you kidding me?! We are flying by the seat of our pants, hoping to land before the bottom rips out and everyone sees our underwear!”

The traditional flying-by-the-seat-of-our-pants-take-the-photo-already-before-anyone-has-to-pee cousin picture.

There was no way she could know that we were currently deep in crisis with a teenager. That I’d fielded a call reporting another of my children as a bully the week before. That living below the poverty line means a constant juggling act. That my husband and I, while maintaining a pretty amazing marriage, have ongoing conflict on more than one issue.

That, in short, we were, and are, absolutely, boringly normal.

But I didn’t tell her any of that. I stumbled through a “Thank you, it’s great to hear that” and some “we like to run things basically on love and agency” kind of comments.

Now that I’ve had some time to think about it a bit, I’d like to attempt a better answer:

“Thank you. We try really, really hard and work really, really hard. It doesn’t come easy. It doesn’t come by keeping score. Loyalty to your spouse is number one. Being totally ready to talk about anything needing talking about comes next. Being totally ready to do something fun or silly comes right after that. That’s a bit about ‘how’ we do it.

“How you do it is more important. You start with who you are. Add who your husband is, and eventually, who your children each are. The best family you can have is the best version of each of its members you can build together. Your family won’t look like mine, because it will be yours. We are special and awesome and admirable because we are us. You will be the same, because you choose to be only you.”

This answer still feels incomplete, like there’s something left to say, but I think it would cross the line into the pompous advice I so dearly want to avoid.

Maybe it’s her who needs to decide what it is… maybe each of us are our own best authors.



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