My daughter had a new friend, Jordan, over for a playdate on Friday. Jordan walked by the chicken Christopher had trussed up in a roasting pan, festooned with carrots and potatoes.
“Lucky!” Jordan exclaimed. “You’re going to have a family dinner?”
“Yes,” Christopher said. “It’s an organic chicken I got from our Amish farmer.”
“You mean you’ll all eat together?”
“The only kind of family dinner we ever have is at McDonald’s,” Jordan sighed, sadly, wistfully.
Sophia tugged my arm. “Please, Momma? Can Jordan stay for dinner? Can she stay the night?”
I glanced over at Christopher and shrugged. It wouldn’t be all that much extra work. And Sophia deserved to have an extra, fun night after surviving the uncertainty of my hospital absence. Besides, for weeks, she’d been gushing about Jordan, Jordan, Jordan and how much alike they were, and how quickly they’d become friends.
“Sure,” I said, “but you need to promise that you’ll go to bed at a reasonable hour.”
They both squealed in delight.
To set the mood, and make it extra special, I lit taper candles and set them in crystal holders.
At dinner, Jordan insisted that it was the best meal of her life. Absolutely the best meal of her life. Sophia and Alexander were super lucky to be able to eat dinner with their mom and dad every night; her dad lived in Texas and she hadn’t seen him in years and years. And while the chicken was delicious, wasn’t it sad to have to kill it to eat it?
Sophia shook her head. “Nope. It lived a good life. It got to run around on a farm, free, eating bugs and grass. Not like the chickens in the supermarket that live inside factories and got fed pellets. This chicken lived a happy life. That’s why it tastes so good.” With that, she slurped down a palm-sized piece of crispy skin.
For dessert? Jordan was amazed over my homemade chocolate chip cookies, and equally amazed over Christopher’s buttermilk, blueberry pancakes the next morning.
“This was the best, best sleepover ever! I wish it didn’t have to end,” Jordan said, as she left.
Listening to Jordan’s gratitude, her simple, easy thankfulness, reminded me that I am lucky not only to be married to a husband who takes pleasure in setting a table with beautiful food, who loves to feed his family with healthy, organic, from-scratch meals, but I am supremely lucky to be part of an intact family. My husband lives with me. Most nights, my husband and kids and I are all squashed together in our king-sized bed—not because we lack enough bedding, but because we’d rather feel the reliable, warm, comforting presence of each other’s sturdy, necessary bodies all in one place.
There are four in the bed and the little one says, “Roll over, roll over…into each other, loving each other.”
Despite my darkness, despite the black dogs that hound me, that nip at my heels, despite my frequent, often unexpected, inexplicable absences due to sad, desperate hospitalizations, my family is always waiting for my return to them: family dinner at the table, Christopher’s homemade loaf of sourdough warm and sliced and buttered, the kids snuggled under the covers in bed, ready for the complete family cuddle. Momma, Daddy, Sophia, and Alexander nestled together against the dark night. Love in a complete foursquare. The best, ever.