Elizabeth likes to joke around. Well you knew that. One of her favorites is to say, “Dada. You should invite Nana over so you guys can talk about Congress.” Of course she is referring to the commonly held political conversations we have at family gatherings. Nana and I tend to have a lot to say during those conversations. We agree more often than not, but that’s beside the point.
When I first joined this family (“this” meaning my in-laws), I was not used to the routine. Bill Clinton was, to my delight, our President. I couldn’t have been prouder to know that we had finally replaced the warmonger Bush. Nana could not, nor could anyone else around the dinner table, disagree more. The discussions were heated. It was confusing for me how we could get so crazy intense over dinner and be gracious and charming by dessert.
That’s just how it had always been, explained my new bride. I should have been there for the Nixon years and Watergate, she said. There would be knock down drag out fights over salad and red wine. Lovely discussion about art or music over ice cream and tea.
It took me quite some time to figure it out and to embrace it. See, the way I grew up was with everyone always agreeing or quickly shifting off the topic. Keep it light and keep it jovial and congenial. Disagreement and any discussion at any temperature above just below ambient was considered scandalous.
I’ve taken on my in-laws’ approach in my life. I’ve recently discovered the phrase “constructive confrontation.” I think that might be what it is. See, if you put all of your dirty laundry out on the table and poke it and stir it up and let everybody smell it and scrunch up their face at it, then it will not sit there under wraps. Festering and getting all wrinkled and ruined. Bright sunshine is the best antiseptic.
The trick is to realize that by the time dessert comes, we can all go back to being nice and pleasant. And we can realize that the debate we just had was constructive. We likely learned something from one another. Even if we did not come any closer to agreeing. That’s how life works. We get open and we get real and naked and raw with each other. So we can understand each other better. And have a richer, more meaningful relationship.
I mean, how great is a creamy cold bowl of ice cream after a super spicy savory meal?