We spent the holidays with my family in Utah and had ourselves a jolly-good time, but then three days after Christmas my grandfather died in a car crash on his way to the volunteer job he’d been doing several times a week for thirty years (THIRTY YEARS) and, well, it wasn’t a very happy New Year after all. (My mom took that tack of greeting family members with a cheer of “Crappy New Year, huh?” and everyone nodded in solemn agreement.)
My little family of three (and one-third) were originally supposed to fly back to California on the day after the accident, but we ended up extending our stay by five days (for a total of thirteen) so we could be there for the funeral. It wasn’t the greatest of trips–in addition to the grief and the harried logistics of funeral planning, we weren’t prepared for that much time away, and I spent most of those extra five days working–but it wasn’t all bad, and if I may take a break from talking about work here, I’d like to share a few things I learned about parenthood, parents, and grandparents.
Being back home for so long, and seeing family I haven’t seen in years, and thinking about what it was like to grow up five miles away from my grandparents instead of an hour-plus plane ride made me think a lot about what kind of experience and memories of family I want my kids to have growing up. As new parents, still trying to figure things out, we’ve put plenty of thought into what kind of community environment we want for them (diverse, safe), what kind of schools (challenging, nurturing), and what kind of home life (loving, peaceful), but until recently I hadn’t given too much thought to extended family beyond the occasional wish for free last-minute babysitting so my husband and I can go to a concert.
Currently our nearest family member (my MIL) lives 400 miles away, and one contingent–my husband’s only sibling and her family–live on the other side of the world, in England. When my son was a baby, I regretted them not being here to watch him grow up, but now that he’s old enough to miss them, I feel guilty about him not knowing them as much as them not knowing him. Also, I miss them too.
Our life is here, and our life is ours, but the more our family grows and changes–our kids are getting older, but so are our parents–I think about the life we have now versus the variety of lives we could have elsewhere, closer to family, and I watch priorities jostle for position: careers, friends, schools, cousins, grandmas and grandpas and the two great-grandparents my son has left.
Are week-long visits back home every six months enough? And if they are, for how long will that be true? I grew up having sleepovers with my cousins on my grandparents’ back porch, each of us using the special sleepover toothbrush with our name painted on the handle in my grandma’s nail polish. I’m starting to want family around not just for Christmases and the occasional Fourth of July parade but piano recitals and impromptu park picnics and just-stopped-by-because-I-was-in-the-neighborhood drop-ins.
We’ll soon be a couple with two kids and no family support in the area, and the bottom line is that we feel at a disadvantage. My eternally rational self chalks it up the change of heart to practical matters like money and convenience (free babysitting!), but to be honest, behind all that is a purely emotional longing to give my kids what I had growing up: family. Lots of it.
I never thought I’d leave the San Francisco Bay Area voluntarily, and I never (ever, ever) thought I’d set up a home back in Salt Lake City. And yet here/there we are.