Wednesday, November 16, 2005

the Family We Want, the Family We Get

Thanksgiving is coming up. I’ll be spending it with G and his parents, like last year. He’s coming home to Illinois with me for Christmas this year. This all works for me, since when I was a kid, we spent Thanksgiving with Daddy’s family and Christmas with Mom’s family every year. Maybe it will be the same when I have kids.

I guess my family Christmases in Connecticut are a thing of the past. I can’t imagine anything being better than that. I also used to see a certain branch of my family on the Jersey shore every year, but since all my generation has grown up and married and begun breeding, I guess they have so many in the house that they don’t invite us anymore. But then, my parents told me a couple of years ago that usually, we were never invited to begin with - my parents invited themselves to people's houses! I'm sure my aunts would say "What's wrong with that? We're family, we visit." But it irks me that if my parents had simply vanished one year, nobody would have called us to ask where we were. We don't see people for five years, and then we bump into someone at some family event, and then it's all "why the hell don't we see you anymore?" I even had one of my favorite aunts going on and on to me about how we MUST visit this summer - but what she really meant was, I'm going to have to consistently call her and call her and call her until she finds five minutes to talk to me, and don't expect her to call me back. And don't expect her to write or email. I'm going to have to take all the initiative to insert myself back into her family's life. Gee, I feel so wanted. So loved.

This is the first year I can recall actually dreading the holidays, expecting to be lonely. I have always looked forward to them, all year long. I reveled in buying new red and green and black and gold clothes to wear a-visiting. I glowed when I'd buy that box of fancy chocolates for a hostess gift. This year...

Everyone I was close to growing up, I’m not anymore. I know people’s life paths diverge, but it just feels wrong, and I feel somewhat robbed. I have over 200 people in my family, and last year every Holiday card that showed up in my mailbox was from someone I’m not related to, who I’ve known about five years or less. That just saddens me, knowing this year it will be the same. Not that I'm not glad I have friends. I'm just furious that my family has vanished.

It would be nice to think that some of these friends might still be around five years from now, but it’s unlikely. There are some people in my life who I call friend, right now, who I hope stay forever. But where will we all be next year? I do have that wonderful handful of close friends of 10 years and more, but they ALL live in Chicago, and I only get one week of vacation, and they have family obligations of their own. And yes, I’ve thought about moving to Chicago to feel less lonely many times. Maybe if I hadn’t met G, I would have done that, but that’s life, and I’m awfully glad I met G.

I hear all these stories about friends of mine who move someplace far from their family and old friends, and fall in love with it, and are happy there, and content to make lives for themselves there. My parents did that. For some reason the prospect of that makes me amazingly sad. I guess I love adventure, but I love coming home afterwards too. I love traveling. I love seeing new places, spending lots of time there, and living in different cities for a few years here and there has been awesome. But I'm growing up, I suppose, and I want to nest. I want a home. And I want family around - lots of them. I'm just pissed that I'm going to have to squeeze a whole family out my cooch in order to have that. I have 200 people in my family! 200, dammit! Why the hell can't we have Christmas parties!? Fourth of July? the yearly family reunion? Do we all HATE EACH OTHER OR SOMETHING?

Of course we don't hate each other. Most of my family simply has their heads shoved up their asses. And of course I mean that in a kind way. Their entire world doesn’t extend outside their own front yards. I hear this is what happens when you have kids. Another thing that puts me off motherhood. I don’t want those blinders. I don’t want everything in the universe to center around my kid. I don’t want to stop being involved with my friends and my family. I don’t want to drop off my kids at school one day, hear something on the radio about New Jersey as I’m driving off, and realize that I haven’t seen or spoken to or heard from my cousins in six years.

I remember saying to someone a few years ago that family is all we have. Is this why everyone’s so quick to reproduce? Because "all we have" just dissolves? Am I the only one who thinks this completely sucks wind!? Is this the reason I'm supposed to birth? I guess the propagation of the species is ensured, but this is such a sad reason to have babies.

Alright, let's do it right now. The babies post.

I want to have kids because I want to continue the line of dysfunctional personalities from which I'm descended. All joking aside, my grandparents and great-grandparents were incredible, fantastic people, and I don't want to be the last of them. I could also wax poetic about the joys of motherhood and parental love, but I imagine you've eaten recently and I'm sure you'd like to keep that down. Besides, I kind of already have that for my cat, but I hear a baby is even better.

I'm only sort of joking. I'd be lying if I said I didn't want kids. But I don't want to be... a parent like my cousins are. It's easy to say "Oh, Ouiser, you're not them, you're you." Well, they're my blood. The odds ain't in my favor. You could say "But look at Person X, they are great parents, they have great kids." Yes. And Tia Carerra got a Hollywood movie by wearing the right makeup to the convenience store. Maybe that will happen to me too?

I'm sorry. I shouldn't be so dismissive. Everyone has doubts about their parenting skills. The thing is... I'm not really afraid of being a bad parent, or of screwing up my kid. What I'm afraid of is turning into someone that I don't want to be. I'm afraid of becoming isolated, of having nothing in my life outside my family. Career will help. But I don't want to see the world through this lens that filters out the lives of everyone who doesn't have kids. I don't want blinders. I don't want to get lazy and not leave the house for anyone but the immediate family, errands, or work. I don't want to let my connections to music, to writing, to my pet political issues, and to the people I've met through those things vanish in a flurry of bottles and onesies and the Wiggles. I'm afraid that ME - the person I'm really only just getting to know, the person I fought so hard to be able to let flourish, and the person that I've grown to love, and to understand that God loves too - I'm afraid of losing myself - my Self - in my family. As so many women do. As so many women in my family have done.

Underneath it all, I feel that I wouldn't be so afraid of this if I had my family around me. My family, who would say "WE are like this," or "WE all do these things," with a knowing smile, and a shrug, and a here, have some soup and we'll feel better. My family that I grew up with, that I had such fantastic times with, my huge Italian-Irish family that could always be counted on for big parties and lots of hugs and long talks and side-splitting laughs, is gone. My kids and I just aren't going to have that anymore. I miss them. I miss our parties with the mountains of home-cooked food and the daddies watching football in the living room and the mommies in the kitchen gossiping and laughing and cooking and the kids playing games and talking about school and clothes and dating and pop bands, or playing outside in the snow. All my life I looked forward to being the one who brought the pies, or the salad, or the cookies, and having long talks with my cousins until the wee hours like my Mom and my Aunt did every Christmas Eve. I'm not going to have that. And I hate that. Hate it, hate it, HATE IT.

I used to be part of something huge. Now I feel alone.

You might ask about friends. My friend with kids - singular - is one of the Chicago people. 15 years of friendship is pretty hard to mess up, but I admit that we don't have a lot in common when it comes to child-rearing issues. She raises her kids the way she thinks is best, and they are great kids, at least I assume they are, since I've only been around them for a few hours, and that was years ago. But I can't talk about kids with her without wanting to rip her head off. I know that when I do breed she will not be able to "be there" for me, anymore than I was for her. Even if we do live in the same city. But that doesn't sadden me. That feels appropriate, for many reasons. Our friendship seems to transcend our womb status. Which is one reason why I value it so much. Maybe, I'm actually afraid that even those long-standing friends will be in my kitchen stirring sugar into their tea even less than they are now. Now that, I am not ok with.

Oh, by the way, G has virtually no family. Two parents and a sister that he's not overly close to, a niece he adores but hasn't seen in years. So if I want to cook for more than three people on Thanksgiving or Passover, I'm going to have to have babies. Several of them. I swear there are few things more depressing than buying a pound of Turkey breasts because you know you won't have enough people in the house to justify cooking an entire Thanksgiving dinner. I don't ever want to cry over my half-empty refrigerator on a holiday EVER AGAIN.

And yes, I know, there's no guarantee that if I have six kids that I'll be cooking for eight. Things happen. But right now it seems like the only way to up the odds.

So this is the post about babies, and family. I know there are no easy answers to these statements. I joke about these things, but they are so heavy on my heart that today I can barely stand upright. And in the forefront of my holiday angst is the idea that I really ought to call G's Mom and ask if she minds if I bring a pie to Thanksgiving. And then the idea that I'll have to find the time to bake it, let it cool, and transport it four hours in the car to Boston. Not to mention the fact that I've been planning to bake a kind of pie that I've never tried before, because it's G's favorite. And his mother is a fantastic cook, and if I don't bake a really GREAT pie, I'll be mortified! Making cream custard from scratch on the stove is something I have only once chance to get right! You know, if we lived closer, I could just go over early in the day and bake it there, and help with dinner overall. I mean, that's how it should be.

Thanksgiving with Daddy's family. Christmas, and Chanukah, with Mommy's. And I'll bring dessert.


Dr. Zoom said...

Cream custard. Yummmmm ...

As you know, I have an even smaller family than G. It's basically Mrs. Z, Mom and me. The missus has siblings that she's on an ever-ending quest to resume ties with, but no one in that equation tries particularly hard, and no one seems to mind that.

So it is that our circle of friends dwarfs our family.

And babies? Don't get me started ...

Anyway, I'm glad to hear you'll be within shouting distance at Yuletide. We'll have to shout at each other -- maybe in the same room, even.

Frank said...

I'm sorry, but for the past 45 minutes I've been trying to get past the word "cooch."

I think families were put on Earth to disappoint us. And, every once in a while, to come through.