Rose And Thorn

Another morning at Starbucks.  Another Tall of Pikes Place with too much half and half added.  The Spotify playlist is especially engaging this morning.  Music from the 40s.  Judy Garland, Satchmo, Billie Holiday.  I imagine that I’m grabbing a cup of coffee at a local diner before I head off to work in a wartime aircraft factory. My illusion only shattered by the computer in front of me.  Perhaps I can pretend that it is an Underwood portable typewriter.

Last night…

I wander into the family room.  It is around 7 PM and my family is in its post-dinner routine.  They are roughly arranged in the shape of an isosceles triangle. Grace has commandeered the “dad chair” by the french doors. She is humorously reading off a worksheet from her economics class. Yes, it is possible to find humor in macroeconomics. Will is on one end of the couch with earbuds in and face invisibly tethered to his iPhone.  Julie is on the opposite end of the couch.  She has built a nest.  Macbook, a hardcover book, a couple magazines, and a small bowl of precisely ratioed Smartpop and bean chips filled out her space.

I engage them and they are happy to reply, but in the short bursts that people do when they are trying to be polite but involved elsewhere.  I survey the landscape and realize that the only other comfortable space available would involve having Julie and Will move their belongings from the center of the couch. I do a quick benefits analysis and decide to recede to my own space and plug into my electronics.  I grab the latest Time magazine with the hopes of reading the cover story. I make a mental note that it may be a good topic for this month’s podcast. The quiet evening continues with my eventual conclusion of sleep.

I’m sure that this scenario is playing itself out in the other houses up and down my suburban street.  A typical evening in typical America.  And that is why I’m grateful for “Rose and Thorn.”

What is “Rose and Thorn?”  It is a conversational device that our family has been using for about 10 years. The rules are simple, the objectives are not.  Let me tell you how it works… but first I have to set the stage.

Those family members who are at home at dinner time are expected to sit down with the rest of the family and eat.  We try to avoid electronic devices at dinner (try, is the operative word). We say Grace. We settle in and follow our respective “start-up” routines.  Will checks out the meal’s protein source, Gracie carefully picks out her favorite pieces of cut up fruit, Julie sets up a plate that may include choices outside the regular dinner offerings, I start to assemble my salad “casserole.”

We start to talk…  “Will, why don’t you tell us your rose and thorn today?”  Will will then talk about his rose, something good from the day.  He will then say his thorn, a negative from the day. He may also say a leaf, something neutral.  Questions may be asked about his replies, and side conversations may erupt.  We go around the table until all willing participants have had their turn.

The vast majority of rose and thorns are pretty routine.  For instance, these are mine from yesterday:

Rose: I got to talk to people that I care about.

Thorn: I had to say goodbye to patients who I have become fond of.

Leaf: Dinner (a McDonald’s Southwestern Salad).

Other family members quizzed me about my responses. In this example, most of the questions were about my thorn, and I was offered some TLC about my loss.

The whole process of “Rose and Thorn” doesn’t take too long, but it serves an important family function.  It acknowledges that we each face ups and downs in daily life.  It allows my family to talk about those events, and to support each other.  It gives us a structure to talk to each other.  Naturally, we chat about other things too, but “Rose and Thorn” gets the ball rolling.

By the time dinner was over I knew what was happening in my family’s life.  It was OK that they were connecting elsewhere after dinner.  I didn’t need their undivided attention, and I was perfectly happy to drift into my own introverted space.

Sometimes simple traditions like eating together and having a conversation starter can become some of the most important things we do to maintain the relationships in our lives.  If you want to have a real relationship with someone you have to relate to them (duh).  The personal connections that we have with others are not business connections that rely strictly on growth goals or profit.  They enrich us by their sheer existence. They don’t happen magically, they require work, like any other good connection.  

People often make the false assumption that once a connection is established it should stand on its own.  This is not the case.  When we want a plant to grow we pay attention to it.  We water it when it is dry, we move it so it can be warmed by the sun, we prune off the bad parts and encourage new grown.  It is no different with the important relationships in our lives. What are your rose and thorn today?