Sunday, January 29, 2012

In the Shelter of ... the Big Blue Chair

I'm reading another Mary Pipher book. This time, it's The Shelter of Each Other: Rebuilding Our Families. It's dated, for sure; there are lots of quaint references to modems, chat rooms, and car phones. However, there's a ring of truth to the stories of parents trying to deal with incomprehensible childrearing situations, and Dr. Pipher's suggestions for healthy families remain entirely relevant: Shared time, places, and activities act as shelters for families. Shared celebrations, rituals, and stories act to connect family members with one another.

I was feeling pretty smug for most of the book: My child's not doing drugs. My partner's not beating me. Our school is safe. We don't watch six hours of television every day. I am quite often home after school.

Damn. I'm lucky as hell.

Then I got to the chapter about all the lovely things that some families manage to do. Oh, crap. We don't formally assign a new right and a new responsibility to Twelve on each birthday. We don't make annual trips to Mexico to build schools in impoverished neighborhoods. We don't eat balanced meals around the dinner table every night. We don't go on rising-moon walks at sunset every month.

But then it occurred to me: We do have the Big Blue Chair.

The Big Blue Chair is an ugly blue recliner. It was a hand-me-down from Twelve's paternal great-grandparents, I nursed her in it, we've hauled it around to at least four houses, and I have never liked it. A few years ago, I was given a really nice brown suede-like couch. The kind of I might have actually picked out for myself, if buying 'real' furniture was a thing that I did. It occurred to me that maybe, just maybe, I could finally get rid of the ugly Big Blue Chair. I never really got around to replacing it, so a year ago when a friend's son had shoulder surgery and needed to sleep in a recliner, I jumped at the chance to loan/give them Big Blue. I'll get something else! I thought excitedly.

Once it was gone, I realized my mistake: Over the years, my daughter and I had unintentionally developed a history with the Big Blue Chair. In Mary Pipher terms, it's a sheltering place and a ritual. I'd get home from work or whatever, and invite my girl to sit with me in the Big Blue Chair. Or she'd wander into the room on a Saturday afternoon and ask "Can I sit with you in the Big Blue Chair? I'll go get Soft Blankie." I somehow knew to (almost) always accept these opportunities. Computer closed, book put down, whatever.

The friend's son's shoulder healed. They brought the chair back. Whew.

Since she's been Twelve, I have recognized sitting with her in the Big Blue Chair as the gift it truly is. It happens somewhat less often now, but that's okay because it will still be a thing. We'll refer to it and those references will be just as significant as the actual sitting.

So ... I might as well resign myself to always having this darn chair around. Hopefully it will eventually be relegated to a basement rec room. If I'm really lucky, I'll be able to foist it off on Twelve when she moves out. If she has children, though, maybe I'll give her a gift certificate to the best furniture store in her town: There's no harm in creating shelter, ritual, and memories in, say, a black leather wing-backed recliner with brass rivets.

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