From how I don't shut up about them, my audience can gather that I'm often around the kinfauna. An afternoon here and there, usually Sundays, when they pop in; after a few hours, we part, and I exhaustedly collapse into bed.
There is a distinct difference, however, when the span of time in each other's company stretches. Whether it be a two-day yuntif, a week's babysitting, a helping out when a nephew has a grisly case of appendicitis and his siblings are parked on the doorstep—quantity is distinctly superior to quality.
The kinfauna, no longer rattled by the unfamiliar beds and whole-grain cereal, and me, no longer tediously taking care of the basics that the interlopers require, mesh together comfortably. We sit companionably at the kitchen table, sometimes in silence, and when they have a question or a comment or complaint I can answer them, honestly, with the focus of my whole attention.
Frank Bruni's "The Myth of Quality Time" debunks the idea that QT can be roped into a selected half-hour. It's when we settle into the stability of another's presence, which can take different amounts of time, that an unscheduled, unpremeditated magical moment of connection occurs.
With a more expansive stretch, there’s a better chance that I’ll be around at the precise, random moment when one of my nephews drops his guard and solicits my advice about something private. Or when one of my nieces will need someone other than her parents to tell her that she’s smart and beautiful. Or when one of my siblings will flash back on an incident from our childhood that makes us laugh uncontrollably, and suddenly the cozy, happy chain of our love is cinched that much tighter.
There’s simply no real substitute for physical presence.
The physical presence itself does not just happen, nor is it always enough. The other day I witnessed a little girl and her mother waiting for the bus. The mother was on her phone; her little girl sang to herself and twirled about the mother's legs, giving her random hugs. The mother didn't even realize the bus had pulled up, even though her daughter told her so about ten times. Sure, she was physically present, but not mindfully present.
Couples move in together not just because it’s economically prudent. They understand, consciously or instinctively, that sustained proximity is the best route to the soul of someone; that unscripted gestures at unexpected junctures yield sweeter rewards than scripted ones on date night; that the “I love you” that counts most isn’t whispered with great ceremony on a hilltop in Tuscany. No, it slips out casually, spontaneously, in the produce section or over the dishes, amid the drudgery and detritus of their routines. That’s also when the truest confessions are made, when hurt is at its rawest and tenderness at its purest.
That's romance to me, adoration amongst the dirty dishes.
It was on a run the next morning that my oldest niece described, as she’d never done for me before, the joys, frustrations and contours of her relationships with her parents, her two sisters and her brother. Why this information tumbled out of her then, with pelicans overhead and sweat slicking our foreheads, I can’t tell you. But I can tell you that I’m even more tightly bonded with her now, and that’s not because of some orchestrated, contrived effort to plumb her emotions. It’s because I was present. It’s because I was there.