Monday, January 22, 2007

Objects in mirror are closer than they appear

When I was a young child my mother would pack my sister and me into the car - and before she got her license my mother would drag us along for the mile or so long walk, my sister in her carriage and me dragging myself behind complaining about how the baby got to be pushed, so why couldn't I - and off to my grandmother's house we'd go. This happened every Saturday, almost without fail. There, in that strange home with its rooms added on to one another as more children were born (Eleven children in all in my mother's family), we would spend the day playing with our cousins or whining about wanting to go home, usually right before it was time to go to church. We'd cry for potato chips from my grandmother's cupboard and carefully climb down the scary cellar steps to steal a coke or two from the basement refrigerator. Coca Cola in real glass bottles with metal caps that required the use of a bottle opener. Our only job was to make sure the empty returnable bottles were placed in their wooden box, ready to go back to the distributor, and to stay out of the adults' hair.

The majority of my extended family lived in the same small city, or its neighboring towns. I was surrounded by aunts and uncles, cousins, and close family friends. I had all four of my grandparents and two great grandmothers. I was as lucky as I was smothered and when the opportunity arose I left my place of birth with little more than a glance into my rear view mirror.

I didn't go very far; my current house is barely more than a forty-five minute drive back to my home town, but it may as well be hundreds of miles away. My family members do not stray far from their comfort zone, usually staying within a 20 or 30 mile radius of their homes. For those of us who moved away the task of keeping close connections has fallen mainly on our shoulders. If we want to stay close to the core of the family we have to be the ones to make the effort. But life gets in the way and our visits are few and far between, and we usually wait for holidays, weddings and funerals to bring us together.

None of this really bothered me... Until I had a child of my own. Having grown up in the bosom of my maternal and paternal families I know only too well what my daughter will be missing by living some distance away from close relatives. Large families are messy and dysfunctional, but oftentimes in the best ways possible. There is a connection that only comes with blood and history that you can't duplicate with friends, no matter how hard you try. There is an unspoken acceptance, even if your lifestyle is not understood, because you are part of something bigger. You're family. Familia. Familiar.

I do try to visit more often, but as I said before life gets in the way. These days a "quick" trip to my grandmother's house requires a bag of toys, a packed diaper bag, and a nap in the car - for Chicky. I usually come home exhausted and melancholy. I have no plans to move back since the town has nothing to offer us -except family - because it has been forgotten by progress. There are few jobs and the educational system is so-so, at best. Mr. C and I want more for our child. As a matter of fact we are considering moving even farther away. Every day we wonder if living in this state, with its expensive housing prices and high cost of living, is best for our family. Is moving away the solution? What will we gain by giving up? What will we lose by trying to get ahead?

In the 21st century the definition of family is so very different than it was just a couple of decades ago - "Families" are not always related by blood, but by circumstance and necessity. I can't help but wonder if this is really progress. Can we successfully move forward if we have no idea where we came from?

30 comments:

PunditMom said...

Excellent questions, Mrs. Chicky.

I had a similar big, messy family experience growing up. Now, R. has only one set of grandparents who live four hours away, an aunt who lives closer but is kind of busy, what with all the shopping to there is to do out there, grown-up sisters, you get the idea.

We are trying out best to create a family for her in our own area -- friends who love her and treasure her almost as much as we do. I know it's not perfect, but it's what we have to offer.

Lisa said...

I can so relate to this. We struggle with the question too. (And the small town/family I grew up in is the same way! Its all on me to visit.)

I wish I had an answer for you... I don't. Sorry. But sending you HUGS!

Irreverent Antisocial Intellectual said...

I grew up with a large, nearby extended family. And now? We got nothing. It's just us three - the nearest relative is a five hour drive.

At times, I miss the convenience of family, not gonna lie. But mostly, I like the freedom from all the obligations.

Then again, I am a bitch. You'd be better consulting people with heart :-)

SJ said...

I've lived far far away from all of my family for a while now, my oldest is 4 and my youngest is almost 17 months. And because I've lived far away for so long and have created a family of my own, I have to agree with you when you say that if you want to stay close to the core of the family, you have to be the one to make the effort. My family doesn't come to visit me often - I usually go to them. And really, as much as I think I'd like the idea of having family really close (if not for my sake, for my kids sake), I kind of like them where they are. I keep in touch just the same, and it works for me.

Meena said...

Very good questions. And I understand the dilemma. Everyone has their own unique circumstances that make their choice of "home" a very complicated one.

I had the opposite type of upbringing. It was just my mom, dad (for a while), and my brothers. Extended family was far, far away. Who knows what it would have been like to have them close, but I was jealous when I'd hear about my cousins getting together, how they knew our grandparents and I didn't. I was envious of friends who had big family holiday functions. My parents didn't create a family for us here - friends came and went, so I didn't have that benefit. Goodness knows my mom could have used someone else to lean on other than me (and goodness knows I wish she would have!).

Fortunately, I do love where I grew up, there are plenty of opportunities here, so I stayed. Now the kids are going to get smothered and they'll probably run away right after high school, but I'm liking the smothering for now. And I like the opportunity to go out to dinner with hubby sans children!

AmandaD said...

I am from eastern Washington state and living now, in upstate NY with my husband and our 2 girls. We knew going into this someone would be far from home. We are in an emotional tug of war right now as well. So sorry, it's no fun at all.

T. said...

I grew up with a really small, dysfunctional family. My husband, however, grew up with a huge family and they all get along. It was an adjustment. We moved closer to them to get away from my relatives....who knew they'd follow us?

But now that Boo works out of town, we can live anywhere. And with the memories chasing us and haunting us everywhere we go, we have started considering moving.

But can I take my kids away from their cousins? Especially knowing what it is like growing up with out any?

What is fair? It is such a tough decision. You're not alone. We're struggling with it too.

Heather said...

My mum's sibllings (my aunts and uncles) lived either in the same house as my grandparents or in the house next door. We were the rebels who lived a 30 minute drive away. I think my cousins, aunts and uncles have been to my parents' house fewer than 10 times in their lives, whereas I know where everything is in their kitchens. It's been an odd contrast - I'm the 'city kid' who grew up in a town of 12,000, and while my cousins are close with each other (but not my sister and I), I don't really think we missed out on anything. We had happy, well adjusted lives even if we were the 'outsiders'. Looking back I wouldn't change it.

Oh, The Joys said...

I would give anything to live near my family now that I'm a parent.

Truly.

It is so hard not to be near any of them and I feel like the kids are missing out on them.

BW said...

Hi - Love your blog, got here from Jess's Mindless Rambling blog. We moved from an "elite" town right outside of Boston, (hint - starts with an N, ends with an N) and moved out to Central MA. The schools in our previous town were top rated, but my own experience w/my kid there was less than great.

The schools in this small town offer perks that the other, highly rated school never did. Housing is cheaper, people are friendly and welcoming, restaurants are seriously lacking, and commute time is longer for husband.

All in all, quite happy with our move to the middle of nowhere. Juest something to consider - you can find affordable housing on MA, but there are tradeoffs. As a matter of fact, there are 2 lovely colonials for sale in our developement in the low 400's.

carrie said...

I think so long as you don't "forget" your roots, you will be fine.

It is you and Mr. C against the world and you can make a new "hometown" for Chicky Baby, as long as you're happy.

Carrie

Mamma said...

I've lived far away from my parents, and now they are moving to be closer to me. I'm so psyched!!! It's one thing to live near your in-laws but a whole other thing to have your mom nearby. I'm so glad for my kids that they'll have both sets of grandparents in the 'hood. Now my siblings? That's a whole other story.

something blue said...

I constantly struggle with this. I miss the closeness of my extended family. I had no idea how much I would long for them after I had children. All of sudden the high cost of the living in the metropolitan center seems absurd. Yet I couldn't imagine permanently returning to my roots.

Pattie said...

I could hasve written this post. Right down to the Coke's in the creepy basement. Every word, and I am speechless...

Mrs. Chicken said...

ZING! You hit me where it hurts today, as I sit lonely and longing for the company of my sister and my mom today.

I know we are living far from home in order to better our lives, and to make a secure future for the wee one.

Some days, like today, the price feels high.

Chris said...

I feel your pain. What a great and profound post.

Sparky Duck said...

sometimes my in laws are more like family then my family can feel like. So I hear you totally, but distance is not always terrible. :)

jen said...

excellent questions, madame chick. we often struggle with the same thing - how to move forward when the past didn't set an example easily understood....and what then, do we draw on, if not our past? whimsy and beer? luck and flowers? chickster, i really don't know...but i like that you are asking.

dodo said...

we've ended up living somewhere that's the other side and end of the country from boths sets of relatives in a town where I'd never set foot til we viewed the house - it was necessary for work, but I really resent that, as you say, the responsibility for keeping in touch seems entirely our responsibility

Felicia said...

It can be tough sometimes, but I actually like a little distance. Not thrilled to hear my inlaws have sold their home and will be moving to the other side of the state from us. A lot closer (2-2.5 hours), but I've decided that's OK. It doesn't give my MIL an excuse to stay for a week because she spent a lot of $$ on a plane ticket. But it's close enough that, were there an emergency, they could be here (or us to them) pretty fast. Don't feel guilty for not wanting to go back. And don't feel guilty if you can't always be making the effort...they could try once in a while!

Velma said...

I've been consumed by these exact same thoughts this week. When I was pregnant with #1, we moved back to my PA hometown, expecting to settle there for the rest of our lives. It didn't end up lik that, though. The year we were there was filled with family dinners and support, and then we moved away to someplace else. It was one of the hardest things I've ever gone through, and last week, when I was talking to my mom about my father's surgery and my brother's new baby and my nephew's depression, I would have given anything to still be living there. BUT - we are really happy here now, and the older the kids get the more I love the small town community vibe, and now if we had to pick between staying or moving back there, it would be a difficult choice.

Mad Hatter said...

I live a 2 and a half hour flight away from my closest family. My husband's family is a 10 hour day (7 hours in the air) away. I long for family. I long for it for my daughter and I long for it for me in my role as mother. We've been back from our Christmas visiting for over a month now and scarcely a day goes by without my daughter asking to get back on the airplane to visit her aunts.

And of course, each time we visit my daughter makes strange for the first few days b/c she is lucky if she sees these people twice a year. It breaks my heart in two.

megachick said...

what is the right distance? we live in the same metro area as my in-laws, who are not the close type. 4 hrs from my mom, across the country from my father and sister. until my dad retired and moved here to be near me! it's been great, especially since we needed such support dealing with my daughter's leukemia-they have been a God-send. but you know what? when we needed them, the inlaws stepped up, too. who knew? now that the dust has settled a bit, the closeness of my parents can sometimes chafe.
i still miss my sister like crazy, tho. it's one thing to be away from your parents--that's adulthood, no? but when you're away from your siblings, it's a different kind of pain. plus, that's where the cousins come from. our girl has no close cousins (the only ones she has are 10+ years older, anyway), and my husband's close friends who live in town aren't having kids yet. that's the kind of childhood my husband had, while i had the kind with tons of cousins and regular visits with them. we both agreed we wanted her experience to be more like mine, but you can't force other people to have kids just so your child will have cousins to play with. can you?

Her Bad Mother said...

You probably know, I've wrestled with this one. I don't know how to reconcile distance and family; all I know is that the heart aches for trying. You're right that this may not be progress of the sort that really moves us meaningfully forward; how can it be if it pulls us so far from our past?

mothergoosemouse said...

Having moved away a long time ago (and having dreamed about doing so for years before I actually did it), I wouldn't have it any other way for Kyle and me and our girls.

It's a tough call. On one hand, I cherish my independence above all else. But on the other hand, I have to make that much more of an effort to ensure my girls know their extended family.

ewe are here said...

My parents grew up in with lots extended family close by in your neck of the woods - Cape Ann. Both left for the west coast as young adults, so my sister and I didn't grow up with extended family nearby. So we're not used to it.

My husband, OTOH, grew up surrounded by extended family. Aunts and uncles and cousins in Scotland, and summers spent in Norway with even more cousins and aunts and uncles... And I have to admit, I loved having that for MF while we were still in Scotland and when we were in Norway this summer. My family still lives in the states, so we're still far away and we will have to go to great lengths to see each other.

But economic realities dictated our move south into England this past year, and they could eventually take us farther still. And our current house search is also leaving us scratching our heads: move out to a smaller village where the pace is a bit slower and the schools are smaller/better, or stay in the city where I have better access to lots of things... I have mixed feelings about it all. There are no easy answers sometimes.

mo-wo said...

I suppose we can more forward regardless but there is an undeniable preciousness to the way it was. I loved my circle of family for all the reasons you outline... Cousins rock! All the makeup advice and handme downs you want without the room sharing. right on

Ruth Dynamite said...

We intentionally moved close enough to/far enough from the family after kid #2 because we wanted our children to know their extended family. Living across country made it nearly impossible for a solid bond to form. We haven't regretted the decision, and frankly, we're happy to be "home" on the East coast even though our exact location is new to us both. I think it's good to leave for awhile, but many people feel the tug to return.

Kimberly said...

I can relate to this. I grew up in a small town (also in Mass.) and left it behind for NJ. We're over an hour from my husband's family and nearly 4 hours from mine. There are days when I long to move back, but only for my family. My hometown has nothing else to offer. It's a tough situation.

Nancy said...

Wow, did this post resonate with me. My aunt and uncle (dad's side) had the same fridge stocker with Cokes in the basement of their house, and my cousins and I had the run of the house during our visits. They lived in a small town in New York State about 3 hours from my hometown -- my mom's family was all near my hometown.

But now we (J and the girls and I) are in another state, and as you said, we must make the effort to keep in touch -- presumably because we're the ones who left. It didn't bother me much until we had the girls, and now I find I want them to grow up knowing their family. It's so hard, though. I would never want to move back and become enveloped in the small-town drama and family soap operas, but here we really don't have anyone.

It's tough, that's for sure.