(This post may look familiar, but it’s been updated and finished…there was a bit of a WordPress mishap last time and it was published before it was ready…now my thoughts are all accurately reflected!)
I remember, as a kid, planning my future with my sister and all of our plans always included us together…we’d raise our kids together; we’d take them to the beach together; we’d go on vacation together. As kids, we spent hours on the beach making future plans. Our husbands would grill together and golf together while we’d spend our day at the spa (not sure if that’s really what we imagined…it may have just been a day of painting our nails, but a day at the spa sure sounds dreamy right now). Our kids would be the best of friends. I’m pretty sure we even planned to have our houses built next to each other.
Life has proved to be less accommodating to our plans than our imaginations and while I only live three and a half hours away there are times when I notice that whether it’s three and a half hours or 30 hours, distance makes a difference. I see it when we visit and there are certain traditions that my mom and my sister have together like nights at the opera and quick trips to the bookstore together. There are certain things that my nephew experiences with my parents that my kids don’t and probably never will. Weekly rituals like Sunday dinner and daily rituals like summer visits to the pool; surprise visits from Granny when they’re in the middle of school and trips to the library with her; dinner out with Pappy. Things that are just a part of their normal routine. Sure we get to experience those as we visit and they willingly accept us into the fold of their flock when we’re there but it’s never quite the same as what I imagined.
Growing up, I was a military brat and so we moved around and we didn’t have extended family around. No cousins at our birthday parties; no aunts to turn to during the teenage years when I declared my mom to be my enemy; no giant family gatherings. Just an occasional visit to my parents’ hometown where we were readily welcomed but never quite comfortable with the intimacy of large family gatherings. My mom’s side of the family was always quick to include us, but it still never felt exactly right. My little immediate family felt right. That’s what I knew. I knew my mom, my dad, and my sister. And I just always assumed that would be my life. I assumed it would always be the four of us in some variation. Throw in a husband for each of us and a handful of kids, but the four of us would remain steady.
When my mom was raising us, she was far from her family. Sometimes really far. I know she knows how I feel…wishing the visit from Granny wasn’t such a huge occasion that we can’t do the normal stuff so she’ll never get to experience any degree of normalcy with us. Wishing that we could all be a part of the everyday seams of one another’s lives. But unlike my mom, I’m not married to a military man. There is no promise of a maybe we’ll move back home someday (and I have no idea if my mom thrived on that idea…I just know that I would). We’re here. They are there. I don’t see that changing. Ever. I have to find peace with the circumstances. Even though sometimes my heart breaks because I miss their physical presence in my everyday life.
My peace comes in little ways. Sometimes I call my dad with a cooking question that I can easily look up online because I just want to hear his voice. Sometimes I call my sister just to chat because it makes it feel like she’s here and she could just bring over a cup of sugar if I needed it but, of course, she can’t. I call and ask my mom’s opinion about something so simple just because I want to feel like she’s a part everyday life. Thank God for modern technology and free long-distance phone calls.
However, life away from my family has offered me a different perspective. I cherish the time that we do spend together. There’s no time for us to argue or quibble over the insignificant…we’re too busy soaking up the moments together. A conversation with my parents is rarely a quick mindless task, but rather, a moment I take to soak up their proverbial wisdom. I tend to cram our days at my parents with events…we hop from place to place with my sister and nephew in tow and we make beautiful memories. Really, my cup is full of lovely afternoons spent hiking with Leslie and Alex and mornings exploring the nooks and cranny of the city my family calls home. Even the end of the meal dinner with everyone gathered around the table is marked with significance…it’s a chance for all of us to be together and because it isn’t an everyday occurrence, it is extremely special. Would it be so special if we did it more often? Seems that the more often we do things, the more we take it for granted, so I can’t pretend that this turn of events…me living away from my family…is a bad thing. In fact, I think it might just be a good thing. Of course, the grass is always greener on the other side…life is about learning to appreciate the grass on our own side. And I am learning to do that.
I remember once, when Dax and I first got married, I insisted that we go “on vacation” to visit his family. He laughed. Why would we do that, he wondered…they literally only lived 5 minutes down the road. Because, I insisted, when you’re thrown together in one house and are committed to spending a weekend together, relationships happen. He went along with my crazy scheme (as did my in-laws) and that is still one of the most memorable weekends with his family that I have. We did things together that we don’t normally do. It was a chance to be shoved together in a way that enforces bonding. Which is the exact thing that happens every time I visit with my family. While we may never be a part of each others’ every day, the times we spend together are marked with a unique code…one that makes each moment special and memorable. A blessing in disguise.
Moving around and lacking extended family nearby offered us, as a military family, an opportunity to establish bonds more closely within our immediate family and I think being raised that way made me think it would always be that way. We had a lot of opportunities as military kids that other kids didn’t have and while I’m eternally grateful for those opportunities, sometimes I think I’d trade those opportunities for roots. Deep real roots. Relationships with my grandparents. Sunday dinner with extended family. Play dates and sleepovers with my cousins. Stories about what this town was like when I was a kid. Random run-ins with kids I played with in grade school. Instead I have beautiful stories about the places I’ve visited, the people I’ve met and the experience of having a sister who was, not only, my constant playmate, but also (and still is) my best friend. Hmm, when I put it like that, the lack of roots seems less important because I guess I had my own form of roots. But the roots that I know and built my life upon have been yanked out. And maybe that’s where this deep longing comes from…I’m still a girl without roots. No roots to this town. No roots to family here. But, despite marrying into a welcoming new family and finding my groove in a town I timidly call home, I can’t just grow new roots overnight. But I can keep trying. And isn’t that what gives our lives meaning? The choice to try and adapt. The choice to allow ourselves the opportunity to grow. Growth breeds happiness, as long as we embrace that growth with open arms.
My life is full. I have women close by that have become like surrogate moms to me and I have my sister-in-law who is my dear friend and feels like a sister and while its not the same, it is fulfilling and beautiful, if I choose to see it that way. And I do choose.
I am thankful that my kids have the roots I so desperately crave. And they have extended family here. While it’s not mine by blood, it is theirs. I like that they have cousins who are best friends and we see them often. I like that they have grandparents nearby.
I am thankful that when I crave a large family gathering, there’s a large family here to gather with. And that my in-laws have accepted me as one of their own and I’m welcomed as a daughter and a sister anytime I’m willing to embrace them. And while all of that doesn’t lessen the craving for my family, it certainly softens the blow.
I miss my family being a part of my everyday. I am thankful for all the ways that they are present…the visits and the phone calls and the occasional note sent via snail mail. While my sister and I may not live next door to each other, I’m thankful that it’s only three and a half hours. Our kids are still best friends despite the distance. Our husbands do golf together and we do sometimes take our kids to the beach together, so all is not lost. It’s just not quite what I imagined. And while some days, it still feels like we’re a world apart, I’m thankful for the days when our worlds collide and memories are made. The grass on my side of the fence really is quite green indeed.