I spent the first six years of my life surrounded by extended family. My cousin Joey was my first best friend, and our moms helped each other with life….one watching the kids while the other went shopping; drinking coffee and chatting on a regular basis. There were grandparent, aunts and uncles, and second cousins nearby, and very much in my life. Many of us would even go on vacation together every year, to a resort in the Catskills. I remember the entire caravan of cars pulling over when I got carsick. I’m not even sure how they made that happen without cell phones.
On Christmas Day, 30 years ago, my family moved to another state. My father’s profession is very specific, and jobs weren’t to be found just anywhere. He saw an opportunity and took it. My cousins then became my first pen pals. Family gatherings suddenly occurred only 2-3 times a year. It was a tough transition for my mom, I know, but as I remember, it was rather seamless for me.
Birthdays were celebrated with just my parents, my sisters, and myself. Thanksgiving and Christmas were small affairs, as well. There were no grandparents at choir and band concerts, talent shows, marching band competitions, or even my high school graduation party. It sounds kind of sad, but in reality, I never felt the lack. I credit my parents with that amazing feat.
They never spoke of the absence of family; at least not with us kids. They made a lot of effort to keep those other relationships close, and didn’t complain when it seemed to be a one-way street. But when it came right down to it, and those people were missing out on our growing up, my mom and my dad filled every gap. We were always enough for each other.
When I began to have kids of my own, I started to realize what had been missing in my life. The way my kids are growing up became a clear contrast to my own childhood. While I never felt deprived, they surely are blessed. Every birthday party is attended by grandparents, several aunts and uncles, and cousins. Every soccer, basketball, and baseball game is attended by one or both sets of grandparents. They’ve grown up in the same church as my in-laws, and more recently, my parents as well. I’ve rarely needed to find a babysitter outside of the family.
Christmas Eve is always at my parents’ house (pizza bread, shrimp cocktail, and antipasto!). After our own morning traditions on Christmas Day we head to my hubby’s parents’ house (ham, turkey, broccoli salad, pink stuff!). Later in the day, my parents come by our house to hand out presents. For Thanksgiving, we alternate years; each year content to be where we are, but missing the other side of the family, as well.
We do have family members out of state, most notably my sister and her family. We miss them so much, but we make the effort to keep close, despite the distance. We also have some family that we rarely see, though they are close by, and that is sad. But our cup is overflowing, and I’m so thankful for that. I’m thankful that God hasn’t put it on my plate to be far from family, as I know He’s done for others.
This fall, a wonderful thing happened to my family. My grandma and step-grandpa moved to town! We haven’t been able to visit them for several years, due to health-related issues. Now they are only 25 minutes away, and will be present at birthdays, holidays, and many things in between. My children are now getting to know their great-grandparents, which I think is amazing. Their childhoods are so richly steeped in their heritage, and I hope that will resonate with them throughout their lives.
Family is not an important thing. It’s everything. ~ Michael J. Fox