Both of my daughters are here, and later in the week my mother will come down from New York for a few days, which means that my whole family will be together. Four women, three generations: a family, not as much modern as realistic.
The men are missing. My father has passed away. My boyfriend is gone, somewhere. My ex-husband is gone, somewhere. My brother is where he always is, in his house that is 30 minutes from where we grew up, with his wife and two children; he seems incapable of expanding his active compassion to more people.
So it is the four of us.
My older daughter is visiting for a week; last month she graduated from an LA-area college with a BA in English and next month she is headed to Vienna to study German and possibly stay there permanently. She will be going with her boyfriend, who, since he is much older, I refer to as her man-friend. In August my younger daughter will be going to college, probably in Colorado. My mother is in the process of selling the apartment in New York where I grew up and moving year-round to Florida.
There will be a dispersal of us women, but not a disintegration. It saddens me that my family doesn’t fill my dining room table when we sit round it for a meal. It saddens me that I couldn’t give my daughters the boisterous family full of close cousins and aunts and uncles that I had dreamed of for myself, but didn’t get, and so had hoped to create for my children. It did not come to pass. It is we four.
A cousin of mine recently adopted a baby, but she never notified me. Another cousin did, which is good that at least one person has a sense of keeping a link alive, but that is all it is, a tenuous, very occasional email link.
The sister of the cousin who adopted the baby tried to friend me on Facebook about a year ago. Since I don’t use Facebook, I contacted her via email, hopeful about reconnecting a childhood friendship. It turned out that she just wanted me to be a Facebook friend/number and possible client of her artwork.
My ex-husband’s two sisters are not in touch with my daughters; it seems that they decided that since their brother is not around, they have no hold or responsibility toward his part of the family.
But while I might feel inadequate about this paucity, my younger daughter gave me her decidedly different perspective. She had gone to a friend’s grandparent’s house for Christmas dinner. Round the table were relatives who her friend only sees at the annual holiday meals, but they felt it incumbent upon themselves to tell her what to study in college, what college to go to, and what to do with her life. There was arguing and interference, and my daughter was appalled; “I’m glad we have a small family” was her reaction.
I looked at her, stunned, that she wouldn’t want something that I thought would be so integral to her desires and that she was endorsing her life—which is what I give to her. It’s hard sometimes—okay, always—to separate your desires and perception of their needs from your child’s, and it’s hard, too, to learn from your children. But that was a good lesson. The grass over here is the grass she knows, and that is comforting to a child. They want—at least at the fundamental level—what they have, because the unknown is frightening.
So the next time I have family-envy, I need to remember that the four of us sitting round the table means a bigger piece of pie and talking time for each of us.