A family almost made me cry tonight — not because they did anything wrong or bad — but because of the love I saw they had for each other.
Most families tend to depress me when I observe them. The dynamics I see — between husband and wife, between parents and children — frequently range from shocking meanness to simple indifference. (I’m never sure which is worse.) Sometimes the man is a sullen bully. Sometimes the woman is a bitter complainer who’s eager to criticize everyone.
There are dozens of variations. The worst are the ones in which you can see confusion and fear in the faces of the younger children — and cynical copies of their parents in the older children.
I see so many families which are some version of this, where the ugly realities of choices they’ve made have left them resentful and hollow at best. They’re people who seem defeated by life — and who are determined to take out their frustrations on the people they live with. Because I see this so often, it makes me happy to see something which appears emotionally healthy and positive.
I’ve been watching two parents and three children in Chick-fil-A this evening. They’re the sort of people who give me hope that I can still have the kind of family I want.
You know those really fake pictures you see in ads for restaurants, the ones in which happy and energetic parents and children are interacting in perfect harmony and bliss? That’s not what I’m seeing. Instead, I’m seeing something more real. I’m seeing a tired couple with young children who seem to love each other and who seem to have a healthy relationship in spite of an exhausting life.
The husband and wife are clearly tired, but they smile at each other and they communicate directly. They seem happy to see each other and they seem happy to be spending time with their children. It’s hard to explain it. They look at each other directly. They talk and compare notes about the day, at the same time they share the job of dealing with children whose ages I estimate as about 2, 4 and 7.
The woman was talking about a difficult day at work. I couldn’t tell exactly what the issue was, but it sounded like a long-running office issue that the man was familiar with. He asked questions and seemed genuinely interested in the details. He listened.
The father had apparently been with the children today and they were meeting mom for dinner. The middle child had been to the doctor for a minor ear problem and the other kids had tagged along with dad. It was obvious that they had already spoken on the phone about whatever happened at the doctor, but the husband added some details and they considered options.
The family seemed to have a lot going on. The adults both seemed tired. The children were energetic in a way that reminded me of barely contained chaos. The parents were splitting their attention between each other and the various children. The oldest girl got too loud demonstrating some kind of dance she had learned or possibly made up. I wasn’t sure about that. The mom urged her to show her again after they got home, because she was too loud.
The man noticed his wife’s drink was empty. He picked up her cup and stood to go get some more for her.
“I can do it,” she sad. “I know you’re tired.”
“Yeah, but you are, too,” he said. “Just sit. I love you.”
And he briefly took her hand and kissed it — and then headed toward the front for her refill.
The mom reached out to wipe the face of the youngest child and I found myself think that I was watching a family love story — not the grand kind from the movies, but the most mundane, simple kind.
That kind of love might be the only kind that matters.
I’m sure they’re not perfect. I’m sure they have their less-than-polite days. But these were a man and a woman who loved each other, who loved their children, and who were living that love in a very real, practical way in front of children who were watching them and learning what a family is supposed to be.
As they got up to leave, I felt a little teary-eyed. I didn’t really want them to leave. I wanted to keep watching, because these people appear to have what I want.
I felt envious of them — and it made my empty heart ache with a dull longing for the mundane love they’ve found with each other.