Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Family Politico, version 5.0

(note - this post has been edited, oh, about 5 times. Writing about extended family is hard, because reading what someone has written does not allow for backstory, intonation, and reassurances that I am not referring to one person or incident in particular. So if you are a relative, and you are paranoid - FEAR NOT. I definitely didn't mean you. Or maybe I did, but really, only the nice bits.)

It may sound strange, but we moved from New England to Hawaii to preserve the last vestiges of familial affection. I'm not going to get into details (Please note the glossing over of details in the rest of this post) because really, what good would it do ? It wouldn't change anything - it will only serve to piss me off all over again. The point is, we moved to Hawaii knowing full well that it would mean only seeing some of our relatives once or twice a year - at most.

We were OK with that.

My brothers were young and doing their thang - and I didn't see them too often anyway. Love them dearly, but until recenty our lives were very different, and we were not particularly close. Moving wasn't going to affect our relationship with them at the time. My mother was in a new relationship that was going swimmingly (they recently married) and Sami's family? Well, Sami has a large, extended family that could carry on in our absence. (gloss) So we ditched. My mom was NOT pleased. At first she thought we were bullshitting. And then she couldn't believe we would actually be able to pull it off. And then she was upset at the thought of not seeing her grandson grow up. But I counted the number of times we had seen each other - actually calculated the hours spent together in the year since his birth, and realized it added up to a one week vacation. No problem. It wouldn't be little bits of time all spread out, but Quality Time, a week at a time, and then long breaks between. Who's to say which is better - but it seemed do-able. They visit us, we visit them, everyone spends Quality Time together. Sami can talk about his famly's reaction to our move, and the time we spent together before and after the move, and how that has evolved on his own time, and in his own words, but suffice to say I had a nasty email accidentally sent to me that was clearly intended for someone else's inbox (which I never showed to Sami or told him about).......gloss gloss gloss.

For the most part, the distance has been good. Away from family our marriage has strengthened, because we had only ourselves to lean on. A marriage that did not have such a strong foundation might not have survived the move, the isolation, the microscope that is island living. But ours flourished. We made lots of wonderful friends (many of whom are also living far from their blood relatives) and we soldiered on. Added another kid, a new house, different jobs, cars, interests and routines. The only thing that remained constant was our distance from our relatives.

Every so often, in the past few years, things have happened that drew me back home - our daughter's arrival, my brother's wedding, my mother's wedding - and now a niece who will be born ANY DAY NOW (right Hazel ?) We are on our way back home, for Thanksgiving and to meet the new baby. And I can't wait. And at times like these, I start to fantasize about moving back.


At the same time, it has already begun. The calls and emails, asking when we are going to be where. How long we are staying. Why we are celebrating Thanksgiving with one family over the other. Conflicts, problems, requests, a lot of sighing and "well, I guess we'll just have to make do."

And then it all comes rushing back to me. Oh yes, I remember it well. THIS is why we moved away. Because we cannot please everyone all of the time - and the stress of trying to do so causes untold grief and stress. It will never be enough. We will always be too far away. The year that Max was 1, we spent Thanksgiving and Christmas in the car, driving from one family (and one state) to the other. Hours and hours were spent driving and sitting in traffic. We were tired and grouchy, but trying - really trying - to make everyone happy. And we failed - miserably. When we arrived, we were late. When we tried to leave, we hadn't stayed long enough. We missed one of the cousins. We missed dessert. They were *waiting for us*. The cellphone rang while we drove down icy roads, through blinding snow - "Where ARE you?"

And this year, it is already shaping up to be Just Like That.
I sent an email out, inviting everyone to meet for dinner, the night after Thanksgiving.
It took a few days, but eventually a few responses trickled in.
"That won't work for us"
"Come to our house, we are already inviting this side of the family over here, so they won't come to see you either."
"Come to the other dinner."
"Come early."
"Come later."
"Come as soon as you can."

Nevermind that we will have driven 4 hours in the middle of Thanksgiving afternoon to get to their area in the first place, ditching one set of relatives in order to see the next group. Nevermind that we have flown 7,000 miles already. Nevermind that we have only 36 hours in one place, and it would be far easier to try to get everyone to pick one central meeting place that doesn't involve yet another long wintery drive.

And here is where the family politics come into play. If only we had a team of pundits, to keep up a running commentary ("Ouch. That had to hurt." "Didn't see that one coming, Mike!" "And here we see them bandying for position." "That one is out of bounds.") We are once again pulled into this bizarre dance, this competitive tit for tat,where our time is scrutinized, and measured, and weighed - we have to make sure we spend even amounts of time with each family. That everyone gets their fair share of time with the kids. But mixed in there is the true purpose of our trip. It is not to bicker with relatives about facetime, and race from one huge family dinner to another. It is about the little things. The small memories that will stay with my kids forever. A family dinner is a family dinner is a family dinner. I vaguely remember countless family dinners - and not one stands out in memory......but going to the aquarium and watching the "killer whale" jumping out of the water? Hell yeah. I remember that like it was yesterday. It is a very delicate balancing act, and I am always afraid to offend, to short-change someone in some way, to inconvenience, or to have plans changed to accommodate us and our limited timeframe. I think the date of my brother's wedding might actually have been changed based on tickets we had already purchased to travel home. And I am forever grateful, because being there meant so much. And yet, the guilt eats at me.

So we have our priorities. And if family fits in with that, all the better - but not if they have to rearrange their plans to match ours.
So far, here's the list:
To meet our newest family member. (OK I lied, these plans HAVE to line up. My extremely accommodating sister in law, the one who may or may not have adjusted her wedding date to fit my travel plans, has had multiple conversations with my unborn niece about the timeframe for delivery - which is basically anytime between NOW and December 10th. Come on baby !)
To see snow. (A first for the kids - hope mother nature is as accommodating as my sister in law.)
To visit museums and the cider mill. (Things we just don't have here in Hawaii).
To watch the marine show at the aquarium and get splashed by the dolphins. (Because it's cool, that's why.)
To be on the sidewalk in NYC for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. (Barring unforeseen circumstances - Done.)
To go on a sleigh ride. (We're working on this - but I can't guarantee it.)

And there is so much more......all of it can include family, but if they are unavailable for whatever reason, we can keep ourselves busy. And our priorities will remain in full effect throughout our visit.

Because while this trip is to see family, it is also to see the world - the world Sami and I grew up in.

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