I knew exactly what to expect.
We'd walk into a den of iniquity laid out like a user-friendly kitchen of the most thoughtfully designed suburban home. Every member of the family would be hustling about, pulling together the eight thousand loose strands that would tie the whole evening together.
Tension would be high. And not just because we would be among captains of industry and the intellectual elite within our clan, but also because we would have to wrangle kids whose beeping, whirring, running at top speeds and disappearing acts always keep their parents perched on the edge of a sharp blade.
We'd stand there for a moment wondering if we should remove our shoes. The dog would make the first move, scampering around with a smile drawing up her long face, suddenly remembering that she'd been here before. The resident dog would oblige.
There would be peace among dogs, at least.
“You did mention we were bringing the dog, right?”
Drinks would be offered immediately and dinner, hints of which we could already smell on the air, would be homemade and plentiful. And, no doubt, detested by my youngest child, whom I can only hope will be quiet about his preferences.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
We are early, and the meal is at least six hours away.
First, of course, we'd be shown to our rooms. The beds would be comfortable but foreign. No doubt we'd toss and turn, fretting about all the things people fret about when they are out of their element.
Will the kids ever go to sleep? Will the dog bark and wake everyone up?
Back downstairs in the kitchen, the nerve center, my daughter is dancing around with her new device. She is video conferencing with a friend, showing a virtual stranger all the miraculous features of this elegant home … like its pantry and the double oven.
“It's amazing!!! You can roast beef AND bake cakes at the same time!” she gushes.
She introduces her aunt … and her cousins. … and then we all take turns saying hello.
“Kids!” We say sheepishly. And we pray she'll grow tired of her new pocket-sized world before it's time for dinner.
Who am I to complain? It's not like I haven't checked my emails six million times since I got here … and all I ever get is junk mail.
Soon, I find myself planted in front of the kitchen sink … using hand soap to wash the pots and pans because it makes me feel useful ... and I don't know that dish soap has a dedicated pump built right into the sink.
The hot water is comforting as is scraping the remains of a rich stew off the enamel bakeware. I am happy in my work.
My husband helps with the cooking, which I only resent a little. He is more skilled in that department, and as a more skilled department is more highly regarded. I have never claimed to be more than an assembler of parts. If you need someone to dish out pickles, I am your man.
The conversation never lags.
It meanders smoothly around the matters of the kitchen – the braising and the baking, the bechamel, and horseradish sauce. “How much fat goes into Brussels sprouts? Holy Moly! No wonder why the kids love them.”
From time to time, we see hard looks and hear the flat voices … yet these moments of tension all seem to pass without hard feeling. … melting right into the simmering froth, never coming to a boil. Even the taboo topics of politics and religion are touched upon gingerly enough to be acceptable.
We retire to the living room for a game we've never heard of – a version of Botticelli – all you need is a dictionary, some paper and pens and a fertile imagination.
For more than an hour we take turns choosing impossible words and making up our own cockamamie definitions. There is laughter, sometimes to the point of tears.
No one checked their phones.
Not that it really mattered.
Eventually, we all made our way toward some semblance of sleep. And we all awoke to each other, and the same laughter from the night before.
Soon it would be quiet again. And the traffic sounds would mingle with the pings and beeps of the machines that keep most travelers hushed and complacent.
I would be sad the visit was over.
Of course, I expected that, too.