Now, An Only Child?

Not that I am an only child, as I was blessed with growing up in a large family.  I’m thankful for that.

I feel sometimes like an only child.  The last of my siblings left two years ago to start a new life elsewhere, leaving me, alone, with my husband, as the sole care-takers of my mom. 

 Now, mom does not need a caretaker, yet.  She has made that abundantly clear.  She does occasionally needs things done around the house.  She does need rides to get her hair done or to go to the mall.  But her current needs are minimal.  I’ve been taking her to do the grocery shopping every week for years already, but that never felt like an obligation.  In fact, it was fun.  I look forward to it.  I’m sure there will come a time when Mom will need more from us, but for now, the most imposing she has been is to ask us to be her paid escorts because she felt like dining out.  No problem.

But my mother is not what this is about.  It’s about family.  It’s about nurturing.  It’s about love.  It’s about goodbyes and it’s about hellos.

Families have changed so much in the past five or thirty years.  I’m not talking about blended families that ensued after a soaring divorce rate, or same sex parents after the acceptance of same sex marriages.  I’m referring to transient families, whose children, when they completed higher education or when they married, settled to build their lives far away from where they grew up; specifically, far away from home.

When I was growing up, both sets of grandparents, all aunts and uncles and all cousins lived within a 30 mile radius.  This was two and a half generations ago, if a generation can be cut in half.  In the fifties and sixties in suburbia, nuclear families remained together.  If there is blame to be laid (and there isn’t), it was my generation that started the trend of spreading out all over the country.  Commercial air travel, faster communication methods and changes in social and economic opportunity have made all of this possible, no probable.

I miss my big brothers.  When the last one asked me to hang out while the movers packed up his house, I thought it would be an opportunity to spend some quality time with him.  I’m still trying to get over having to say goodbye to his wife and daughter two weeks ago in New York.  (We were all there to see my niece in a show.)   I figured we’d have a little time to talk, have some lunch, get a little work done and maybe reminisce a bit about some of the stuff that was being packed.

What actually happened was chaos.  His head was full of nine thousand thoughts.  He was attempting to get the house ready to sell while at the same time getting it packed up to move.  He missed his wife who had been out in California for a few weeks already.  Wasn’t sure all of the furniture was going to get picked up (that which was not going with him).  He felt bad about leaving the dogs outside in the heat.  I’m pretty sure he was pausing to glance at my mother, wondering when the next time was that he would see her.  I watched all this in silence.

That’s a lie.  I’m never silent.  In fact, my reaction was, as usual, the exact opposite.  I was hyper, and silly, and trying as hard as I could to be funny and engaging, to make everyone laugh.  You could cut the tension with a machete from an earlier exchange between my brother and the movers, and I was doing what I could to make everyone laugh.  That all worked out fine.

I spent a lot of time outside with the dogs, playing, smoking cigarettes, dunking my feet in the pool and weeping.  See… it wasn’t just my brother I was going to miss.  It was hard growing up in a houseful of men.  When my brother first met his wife, they were teenagers.  She immediately took me under her wing, and except for maybe wrapping her hair around a soup can every night to straighten it out, I looked up to her for just about everything.  They became my best friends and she became my sister.   You know, the one I never had.  For the past 44 years, she has been my sister, a confidante, a punching bag, a shoulder to cry on, a sounding board, and my personal baker (I think that may be the part I miss the most).  Even my closest friends don’t know me as well.

And so it goes.  My siblings all settled elsewhere and somehow because of my mother and the closeness between my brothers and me, all of our children are unusually close, even though they didn’t grow up in the same city.

Now, when I look at this next generation of cousins, they live even further away from each other, yet as siblings they are close.  My one brother’s kids are in California.  Mine are in Florida and Wisconsin.  Another brother’s kids are in Georgia and South Carolina, and the other brother’s kids are both in Pennsylvania. Thanks to cell phones and social media, everyone seems to stay in touch.  They all seem to know what’s going on with each other.  I’m thankful for that.

Having just returned from California, where we celebrated the marriage of my niece to a terrific young man, although I don’t know if he’s aware of into what he’s gotten himself. We also welcomed another family member… my nephew and his wife brought a beautiful boy into this world.  Most of the cousins were there to engage in merriment and togetherness. That’s what families do.  Or at least, that’s what our family does.  I’m thankful for that too.