"All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." This opening sentence from the novel Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy is one of the more famous opening lines of a novel.
This line came to mind last night as I thought of our dinner companions. At the weekly church dinner we sat with an associate minister and his family. Their children are 16,14, and 11. The same age differences as our three.
I love children who like adults, who can talk comfortably, respectfully, and still be kids. We'd never met these young people and yet I felt very comfortable talking to them and joking with them; sharing a meal with them was a delight. Watching the interaction between the children and the parents and two strangers gave me many smiles not only last night, but this morning remembering it.
The family stories they told were told piece by piece - each person having their bit to share. You could hear how often these stories had been told by how familiar they were with the pattern. And they loved their stories - and loved sharing them. Joy jumped from face to face because they also loved hearing each other talk.
And yet the kids weren't center stage, they were controlled by parents who knew they were kids and knew they needed boundaries at times. And the fact that these boundaries are accepted and familiar was evident in the kids reaction to the boundaries. Just like a good driver doesn't pout when they see a STOP sign, they trust it's the right thing to do.
What fun it was to be with this family and what fun they had when they left. How do I know they had fun when they left? Because I just know it.
And while it made me remember the fun times with our kids, it didn't make me miss them. It made me appreciative of being at a point where I get to observe and participate in other happy families.
Isn't that amazing how an observation in a novel written in 1877, speaks truth today? I guess truth has staying power.
Just like happy families.