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Orange You Special
Zen and the art of family gatherings

By Jeanne Marie Laskas
Sunday, May 4, 2008

"LISTEN, WE REALLY HAVE TO make a fuss over all this fuss Kristin is making over us," my sister Claire says to me on the phone.

"Fuss?" I say.

"She's so excited we're coming, planning menus, birthday cakes for your kids -- she hasn't called you?"

Yes, she has. It's the first time in a long while that Kristin is hosting the big family shindig at her house -- and so, of course, she's excited. And, yeah, she's making a fuss. And yeah, Claire's right: When one sister makes a fuss, the other two sisters are sort of duty-bound to fuss over the fuss. The ever-intensifying fuss level is a family's fuel. It can, of course, ignite. It can explode. Who hasn't witnessed it? The big bomb of best intentions.

"I'm thinking a whole new way," I tell Claire. "I'm thinking anti-fuss. I'm thinking Zen." I tell her I've been promoting this very idea to my husband and children. "It's a holistic approach." I say.

"Oh, dear," she says.

"It's a matter of how you choose to define experience," I say, explaining that I'm stepping back, thinking about how we are about to embark on a long journey to visit family. "Now, is the experience the visit?" I ask. "Is it the culmination of the fuss-making? Or is the fuss-making itself part of the experience?"

"I really have to go," Claire says.

"Think of an orange!" I go on. "The pleasure is not just in the flesh of the fruit, but in the peeling, in the nectar that stings as it dribbles down your wrist."

"Flesh of the fruit? What have you been reading?" She accuses me of being a lot more stressed out about this trip than I realize, and hangs up.

Calmly, I commence packing. I pull out a carry-on bag for each of my children. I tell them to coolly choose their clothes for the weekend. I tell them not to stress out about it. "Let your suitcase be your dwelling," I say. "Let your spirit climb into it and guide your choices."

Both girls cock their heads, and one goes for the grab: "So, we can take anything we want?"

I smile gently, close my eyes and nod. This is going to be a beautiful, beautiful trip.

"My son," I say to my husband, when he begins complaining of the acid reflux that overtakes him whenever he travels anywhere. "Oh, weary fellow traveler," I say. "Fear not the forgetting of toothpaste. Fear only the toothpaste."

"Okay, that one didn't even make any sense," he says, adding that if I don't stop talking like this he's going to call an exorcist.

"You cannot tear down walls when the walls themselves are wings," I tell him. "Discover your wings and soar."

"Oh, my God."

I am in a higher state of consciousness. I am now in the car on the way to the airport. I am wings. I am in the passenger seat holding the bridge of my nose, humming quietly, "Hmmmmmm."

I come back down to Earth -- briefly -- to join my husband/son/brother in his earthly pursuits (Tums) and to remind him of the orange. The totality of the experience. "That is what matters," I say. "The family gathering is just part of the experience. We are in the experience right now, all of us, and everything around us."

"Yeah, it's really good for me," he says.

I drop them at Departures, then park the car in the super-close and expensive lot -- because money doesn't matter when you are in a higher state of consciousness.

We get to the security checkpoint, remove our shoes. The conveyor belt sucks our suitcases through, and a guy on the other side waves us over. "I need to look inside these," he says, of my daughters' bags. I smile at him peacefully, wonder if he knows I'm thinking of becoming Amish. I wish I had a bonnet. He unzips the first suitcase and pulls out a bottle of kiwi strawberry shampoo. A bottle of coconut pineapple conditioner. A bottle of "goo-goo grape" bubble bath. Bottle after freakin' bottle.

"Girls!" I snap. "You packed . . . liquids? You can't bring liquids!"

They look at me, confused. Did I not say they could bring anything they wanted? Um. Hmmmmmm. "You need all this soap for one stinkin' weekend?"

"I got that for my birthday from Makenzie!" my 7-year-old says, as the guy tosses the potential bomb-making material into a trash can. " That is my best soap!"

"You can't let a kid slide with some shampoo?" I ask the man. Then to the girls again: " You can't bring liquids! Why did you pack so many liquids?"

"Dad! They're taking my best soap!"

Sweat begins forming upon my brow. I try to feel the Zen. I try to find it. I try to become it. My daughter is crying. My husband has his eyes shut, shaking his head. We have our shoes off. We can't find our boarding passes. We are neither earth, nor air, nor wings. We are clenched teeth and raw nerve, another little family headed to the mother ship.

Jeanne Marie Laskas's e-mail address is post@jmlaskas.com.

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