The poker game was at our house last night. Six young men and one woman who have been gathering to make trebuchets, perform in and attend plays, design robots and play trash-talking Texas Hold Em for at least ten years. One of them said last night, referring to a wimpy bet by another: "We're not sophomores in high school anymore."
Indeed they are not. They are studying for graduate degrees, acting in England, re-inventing internet marketing, programming for startups. When they are all in town, as for the holidays, they get together for poker, and to me it's just like old times. As Meg and I sit reading in another room, we overhear their happy banter, which ranges from just what is covered by the fourth amendment to the fallacy of sunk cost (as applied to betting, in this case) to the Simpsons.
I remember the parties my grandfather used to have during the holidays. He would make a beef tenderloin and cheese grits and pound cake and after he made sure everyone was served he would stand by the sideboard and watch as his large family chatted happily. I asked him once why he wasn't joining in, and he said it gave him more joy just to stand back and watch his family enjoy one another so completely.
I didn't understand then, but I do now. When those first poker games started, we were, as parents, still striving to make sure everything went well for our children. We took them places, we worried about whether they were happy, and when their friends came over for poker or to go to one of their plays, or just for anything, we were so happy for them. They were making their own friends, pursuing their own interests, but somehow I still felt responsible for their happiness. I understand that I wasn't, but really, when you're driving to another event or suggesting yet another activity, you begin to think you are making a difference in how well they are adapting to life. You are and you aren't, I suppose.
But now, it's all them. All I have to do, all I can do, is sit back and watch. It's nice, really. Just as my grandfather said. Liberating in a way. They are happy. They are doing it on their own. I don't have to worry. I can go back to just thinking about myself (and Meg) if I want to. I can worry about my novel instead of my children. In fact, given their successes, maybe I should turn my novel over to them.
When the poker games first started and it seemed there would always be children in the house, I would ask them to hold down the volume when I went to bed while they were still playing. I couldn't sleep in those days unless the house was dead quiet. Maybe that was some kind of alert system working within me: only quiet meant everyone was safe. But last night, the laughter and chatter that filtered up to the bedroom felt like my mother's lullabies singing me to sleep, reassuring me with that soft melody that all is well with those I love.