For a while we tried to hold semi-regular family meetings. These events were more ritual than content but a small shared ritual can provide lasting memories. They always ended with a special snack that one of the girls would pick. We stopped scheduling the meetings so often when it got to the point that the choosing and serving of the snack dominated the ritual.
I'd be in the grocery store with one or both of the girls and they would spot a snack that they were pretty sure I'd say no to. They'd ask about it and quickly before I got to the point of actually saying no, one would say "we can serve it after tonight's family meeting."
"But we aren't having a family meeting tonight," I'd point out.
"We really should, dad. It's been a long time and there's things we need to talk about."
I might cave on the snack they requested or I might steer them to something else, but the family meeting was now scheduled.
After dinner, we would clear away the dishes. Maggie would go get the matches while Elena put two candles in candlesticks on the table. I would help each girl light the candle nearest them and then we would turn off the light.
When we were all seated and quiet I would begin by asking each person to talk about something special that had happened that week. "Maggie," I'd say, "why don't you start." Elena's hand would shoot up. Her hand was always in the air she could never contain herself. "What Elena?" I'd ask.
"This week I was at Mama's house, and " she'd begin.
"That's not fair," Maggie would say, "he called on me."
Elena would look offended and say "you interructed me."
"Interrupted," I would correct. "Actually, Elena, it was Maggie's turn. You'll be next."
Maggie would then talk about something that happened at school or some book she was reading or some fact she had learned that she wanted to tell us about.
Elena would go next and tell a story about something she did that her grandmother had just loved. When she had finished Maggie would say, "oh, I just thought of something else I need to go again."
"O.K." I'd say, "you can go as soon as mom and I have had our turns."
Maggie would finish and Elena's hand would shoot up into the air. Each girl had been brief on their first time around but this time it was a competition. Elena would tell a long and rambly story without taking a breath that was long enough for any of us to "interruct". Towards the end she would start singing her story like a twelve bar blues. "Oh, then I went to the library. At the library I wanted to play outside on the playground. My dad, he said it was too cold. But I told him he was wro-ong. He said he didn't think so. I told him I did think so. Oh oh oh oh oh oh – oh oh oh oh oh oh. And then on the way to the car. I asked him to hold my books. He turned and asked me why-hi. I told him so I could play-hay. And then he let me play-hay."
We'd then go around again and everyone would share some story they had heard. In another pass we might all talk about a project we'd like to start. Sometimes we'd go around the table and all talk about something we'd like to do better this week. I might say I would try to eat more vegetables. Maggie might say she would try to read a little longer. Elena might say she would wash her hands every time after using the bathroom. Kim would tell us what she would like us to work on.
"I would like us to not just dump our bookbags everywhere this week," she would begin. "And when you bring a stuffed animal downstairs, you need to bring it back upstairs. And when – yes Elena?"
Elena's hand would be in the air again. The hand taking on a life of its own pulling her out of her chair.
"Those are my stuffed animals but Maggie brought them down."
"I did not," Maggie would protest. Maggie would always get indignant when the facts weren't right. It seldom worked in her favor.
"Did you?" Kim asked Maggie.
"No," Maggie growled sullenly. "I sent her upstairs to get them for me."
These discussions might be appropriate for a typical moment in a typical day, but this was a family meeting. I would try to bring the meeting back to our topic. Some times it would work, other times it wouldn't.
At the end of each meeting we'd turn the lights back on and each girl would blow out the candle that the other had lit. It was part of the ritual that encircled the meetings. Then one of them would go get the snacks for after the meeting and we would sit and enjoy the snacks and spend a little more time together.