There’s a great discussion going on over at XUP’s about extended family — cousins, grandparents, uncles, and aunts. Her post was inspired by Guillermo’s blog, which is a fascinating discussion of what it’s like to be an immigrant in Canada; Guillermo got us all thinking about how one of the things an immigrant gives up is all those great big family dinners and weddings and christenings — the sense of being part of a tribe, rather than just a nuclear family.
Growing up, my mother’s family was very close. My grandparents were married for more than 65 years and were the rock of that side of the family, and right up until I was an adult, all of my mother’s siblings and their children got together at least four or five times a year at Nana and Papa’s house. Every Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter, at a minimum, would mean a big dinner, giving an oral report to my aunts and uncles about how school was going, and playing with all my cousins.
Those were good times.
When I hit adulthood, I moved away. First an hour or so away, then to Ottawa, which was six hours away (closer to eight when travelling with three kids). I must admit, I really couldn’t wait to get away. I missed my mom, sure, but I wanted to make some space for myself. I wanted Sir Monkeypants and I to have a chance to figure out what our marriage was going to be without third party interference or advice. I wanted us to make a home of our own. We still went down to visit for most of the major holidays, but we also built our own life here.
Then we had kids, and suddenly I realized why people move to be closer to their parents when they have children. I’m sure if my parents or Sir Monkeypants’ parents lived in town, they’d be driving me crazy with their comments and their dropping by and their expectation that we’d have dinner at their house every single week.
But I do miss that feeling of having an extended family. I miss having other adults around that my kids look to as authority figures, other adults to help in bringing them up. I miss having a house crammed full of people every time you turn around. I miss seeing my nieces and nephews getting bigger, hearing about the details of their lives, seeing them getting to know my own kids.
A few years ago we realized that we were missing that sense of community in our lives — it takes a villiage to raise a child, and all that — and we made a conscious effort to create an “surrogate extended family” for ourselves. We invited the neighbour’s kids over for dinner; we made regular playdates with old friends who had kids the same age as ours. We made an effort to chat with people we saw on our street, and I got involved with the PTA to give our kids a stronger sense of belonging somewhere.
There’s still something missing, though.
We do the best we can; although I gripe CONSTANTLY about the drive down and keep threatening to stop doing it altogether, our visits south are really important to us. We encourage our kids to call their cousins (especially Sir Monkeypants’ sister’s boys, who are close to the Captain in age and are serving as his “brothers” since we refuse to produce a baby boy for him). We write letters to their grandparents and send them care packages of school art.
And we do get to see them a few times a year, which is better than having them across an ocean.
I don’t ever want to move from Ottawa; this is my home, it’s where my heart is. But sometimes I do wish the world were just a wee bit smaller.