It had been years since the four of us had eaten coordinated family dinners together. Sure there were the holidays and the Shabbats at my parents’ house, but we hadn’t done a regular weeknight dinner together in a while.
One by one, we’d all gone off on gap year programs after high school, and then to college, and the house began to empty. One brother got married, and then he began to have kids. And so did the next. We divided into what we like to call family one and family two. My two older brothers in camp one and my younger brother and me in camp two. My older brothers were both out of the house by the time I was a high school freshman, so we would joke that my younger brother and I grew up in a different kind of house from them, with different rules and curfews and vacations.
And then around 2 years ago my older brother made an international move with his wife and kids, and even though we’d felt things shifting for years, (we were all already long out of my parents’ house at that point,) the move set off a new kind of more permanent shift, more than any marriage or birth of any child had set into motion thus far. A realization that despite the fact that we’d been growing in different directions for years, we wouldn’t all be living in the same 30 minute radius for the rest of our lives.
And despite the fact that we knew they would come back to New York relatively often for holidays or big family events, and we’d find ways to visit them overseas, we knew life was starting to get more complicated, and we’d start hanging out less and less.
But despite my brother’s big move, he still comes into New York often for business, and so we decided early on, that when he’s in, we’d try to make a point of going to dinner, just the siblings and their spouses. No parents.
We’d choose a restaurant, sometimes something new, and sometimes a family favorite, and we’d all meet up, at our predictably early (my younger brother and me), and classically late (my oldest brother and his wife) times. And we’d revert back to our childhood selves. Mocking each other’s tardiness, guessing each other’s orders, stealing food off of each other’s plates. Sometimes the conversations would center around work or politics, and the table would heat up with debate, and other times the focus would shift to one specific person.
“So tell us about the guy you’re dating,” they’d start with me. And suddenly they’d be pulling up his Facebook picture and joke about the superficial details they could pull from his profile. And internally I would smile, because as close as we all are, we don’t talk every day, and so these dinners had become a way for us to poke fun, but also catch up. To ask questions, to check in, to push the envelope a little bit on things we maybe wouldn’t say in a text.
The best dinners are the ones where everyone’s there. My two older brothers and their wives and my younger brother and me. They’re rare, I think it might have only actually happened once so far in the last two years, but they’re the most whole, the most complete, because as much as it’s always been the four of us, for a while now it’s been the six of us, and the dynamic isn’t complete without everyone present.
And when the check comes we joke about who’s paying, even though mom and dad have very generously agreed to cover the bill, and we have very ungenerously refused to allow them to join.
They say it gives them joy that we go out together, although I think they might feel a little left out. They joke about joining us sometimes, but they know they’re not really invited. There’s something about it just being us, just the kids.
We range in age from 24-34, and yet we still think of ourselves as kids.Because there’s something that brings you back to being a little kid, sitting around the table in the kitchen during a big dinner party, free to talk openly about anything and everything while the adults mingle in the dining room. Anything goes. We no longer tumble on couches like power rangers zapping each other with imaginary laser beams or build ferris wheels out of k’nex in the basement, and so despite the fact that we’re adults with our own lives, some of us with our own kids, there’s something almost sacred about sitting around that dinner table, stealing steak off each other’s plates, rolling our eyes at terrible jokes, and sharing secrets and funny stories, without the watchful eye of our parents.