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Long, long after diapers and strollers, car pools and proms, colleges and weddings, I began to let myself imagine Friedman family life with three adult daughters, three delightful sons-in-law and seven grandchildren. The golden age of togetherness.

One persistent image was of wonderful Sunday suppers every couple of weeks. Everyone would arrive by late afternoon, and we’d gather around the dining room over a hearty stew or maybe a terrific chicken dish. Of course we’d splurge on fabulous desserts. That lovely notion has come to pass exactly twice.

It turned out that two sons-in-law really yearned to play basketball with their middle-aged baby-boomer buddies on Sunday afternoons, resulting in various strains and sprains I won’t detail. The older grandchildren had tons of homework, and the younger ones seemed to need social secretaries to handle their schedules.

Our daughters, all working mothers, found Sundays handy for grocery shopping, attempting to put the household in order and squeezing in an hour at the gym.

So I came up with another of my fantasies. We’d seek culture together to nourish our souls, and I’d be the self-anointed family cultural ambassador.

My plan: one Saturday every month, we’d gather at a landmark – the Franklin Institute or the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Or maybe we’d take on Manhattan – the MOMA, Greenwich Village, the Museum of Natural History. One Saturday at noon, we descended on Manhattan’s Museum of Natural History – one Saturday at noon.

In the first hour, we temporarily “misplaced” irrepressible Danny, who had wandered into a distant gallery. At least he was engaged for as long as a 10-year-old might be. His older brother Jonah ended up breaking the rules and texting on a museum bench, ignoring the wonders before him. The “bigs” – cousins Hannah, Zay and Sam – ducked out to the nearest coffee shop. And the rest of us were dragging by the second hour.

So we figured we’d nourish our bodies instead of our souls and ended up at a deli where we shamelessly over-ate. Then we all got caught in horrible tunnel traffic leaving Manhattan.

“Never again!” somebody groaned. And that ended the Friedman cultural circuit.

My next plan was far more modest. At least a mother and her three daughters could schedule conference calls, given everyone’s out-of-control lives. For our inviolate phone date, night and time, we chose Wednesdays at 9 pm – and no excuses, no absences, 30 uninterrupted minutes.

Those two phone dates were fantastic. We talked with texture and nuance, filling each other in on our big and small thoughts. We laughed, we sparred, we shared. The next one started late and ended early. There were interruptions, complications and an argument over whether I was being too bossy.

When Nancy’s book group switched its meetings to Wednesday nights and overworked Amy just plain forgot our phone dates, we gave up the ghost. Farewell, phone dates. Goodbye, Sunday supper fantasy. Goodbye, culture quests.

These days, it’s family life as usual. We’re back to unscheduled cell phone conversations from daughters on their way to or from work. It’s photo attachments from college student and granddaughter Hannah done up for her sorority formal, and an email joke from a son-in-law. Actual face-time? Doesn’t happen nearly enough.

So Nancy seriously suggests Skyping. Jill hints at a spa trip – inviolate and planned a year in advance. Amy favors family camp for all of us, complete with cabins in the woods and eating in a mess hall.

It’s not what I’d envisioned. If once I dreamed of a caviar family life, I may just have to settle for a peanut butter and jelly one. And I will. Because family life is generally a series of major compromises with perfection.

June 2014
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