We have a family tradition of gathering on Sundays at BurgerFi in South Austin. BurgerFi, a small and seemingly little-known chain, happens to make some of the best burgers in town: grass-fed, hormone-free, organic beef that simply tastes better than most burgers I’ve tried. The place is located at Mopac and Slaughter Lane, in the Alamo Slaughter shopping center.
This Sunday-evening tradition began as a way to integrate our three adult children, our nephew and their partners—all in their 20s—with my elderly mother-in-law. Our idea was to avoid subjecting the “kids” to visiting the “old people’s home” where their grandmother lives. I sympathize: I remember being that age and hating the thought of visiting the Trezevant Manor in Memphis, where various relatives and later, my own mother, ended up before they died.
Besides, my mother-in-law, or “Gran,” as we call her, adores cheeseburgers—and she doesn’t get out much. She allows herself such indulgence only once a week, and only if I split a cheeseburger with her. I can’t neglect to mention the accompanying “Cry and Fries,” a deep-fried mix of giant onion rings and thick, skin-on fries that is the required side.
Gran asks that I cut one onion ring in half for her; she doesn’t skimp, however, on eating the fries. Weather permitting, we gather on the patio outside at a large picnic table. We often bring our dogs as well. We eat, and catch up, while the sun is setting.
But there’s more method to this innocent madness. Since our children and nephew have all launched, with jobs and houses of their own, they are trying their best to separate and individuate, according to their adult imperatives—not an easy thing to do pre-marriage and children. If they hang around our house or see us too much, they fear regression, and infantilization. I don’t blame them.
So they come willingly, and happily, to BurgerFi. This practice, I realized, is a kind of rapprochement. The term, borrowed from the French, officially means “a re-establishment of cordial relations,” as between countries or entities in conflict. But in psychology, it means returning, intermittently, to the secure base of one’s parents, or caregivers.
The concept of rapprochement grows out of Attachment Theory. The idea is that throughout our lives, we often practice a certain rapprochement with our original families as a way to refuel, redefine and re-launch ourselves.
We begin this process as toddlers; when we are learning to walk, we venture farther and farther from Mom, eventually even briefly toddling from the room where she is, but quickly returning for comfort and reconciliation. In connected families, rapprochement is a lifelong process.
Although I often miss having my children in my daily life, or even underfoot, my husband and I have embraced our BurgerFi evenings with aplomb. After all, it’s time we moved on as well.
Elizabeth O’Brien holds a Bachelor of Arts in English degree from the University of Tennessee/Knoxville; and a Master of Arts in Counseling degree from St. Edward’s University in Austin. She is a Licensed Professional Counselor-Supervisor (LPC-S), with a private psychotherapy and supervision practice in Westlake. She also created and runs a pro bono counseling program at the Town Lake YMCA in downtown Austin. Ms. O’Brien worked as a journalist for many years in Florida and New York City before moving to Austin to raise a family. She is the co-author, with her husband, photographer Michael O’Brien, of The Face of Texas (University of Texas Press), a book of portraits and stories of Texans, both famous and “ordinary.”
Visit her website: www.elizobrien.com