Tuesday, May 13, 2008

"If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance."

I've been touched by the excitement my pregnancy has generated in my family.

Happiness was expected, especially since this is the first grandchild on my side of the family and therefore something of a novelty. But it’s been really great to hear my dad talking about how he wants to take the baby to this beach and that museum and how they’re planning to buy a web cam and get Skype so they and the baby can "see" each other on a regular basis.

My brother and sister live in Brooklyn but have been talking about moving to the DC area to be closer to their nephew (and for other reasons, as well). “I’m going to be the coolest aunt ever!” my sister announced. “I want to be there so I can baby-sit for you guys!”

This makes me feel great, because my siblings and I have never been close to our relatives. My maternal grandmother is the only one who made any real effort to visit and communicate with us on a regular basis, no matter where the Air Force sent us. She wrote letters, came to every graduation, spent many Christmases with us, and went along on several family vacations.

But she was really the only one.

Growing up, I guess this didn’t seem all that strange to me. I mean, we moved a lot and were always starting over with new schools and new friends. It seemed natural to have shallow roots. It wasn’t until other kids would talk about attending family reunions and visiting their grandparents or aunts and uncles that I would think, “Huh.”

When I got married, I was absolutely shocked that my paternal grandmother came. I was even more shocked that my my mom’s brother came. I hadn’t seen my uncle for at least ten years, and I haven’t seen or talked to him since. Even so, of the 100 guests at our wedding, most of them were sitting on Mike’s side of the church.

We never knew our grandfathers. I think we would have been close to my dad’s father, if we’d had the chance. My dad loved him tremendously, and he was one of the only loving adults he had in his life. Sadly, he passed away when I was only a year old.

My mom’s father died when she was around eight months pregnant with me. He was a mean man and not a very good father. When mom found out he was dying, she lied to the airline about how far along she was so she could fly to Florida to be with him. As my mom approached his hospital bed he growled, “Have you had that baby yet?”

“Not yet, Dad,” she said. “One more month.”

“Well!” he said. “That’s damn poor production.”

And then he died.

When I found out I was pregnant, one of the first things I wondered was if history was doomed to repeat itself. Would it become normal for our son to never see his aunt and uncle? To wonder if his grandmother would show up for his wedding? (or commitment ceremony. We’re open.)

Not that my family is anything like the families my parents grew up with. Far from it, actually. My parents managed to break a number of dysfunctional cycles through sheer determination, and I admire them for it. But still- a distant family seems more tragic to me now that it ever did before.

That fear is irrational. There is love in my family, and I don’t doubt that they’ll be there for our son. He’ll be such a lucky kid, coming into the world with three grandfathers and three grandmothers, and a whole assortment of aunts and uncles, all of whom love him already and will be active in his life.

This is why I tear up when my sister promises to buy our son his first suit, or I find out that my dad has already put baby shampoo in their guest bathroom, or when my mom cries over ultrasound pictures.

Some things get better with time. Like my family.

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Anonymous Betsy said...

I love this post. Very touching.

8:00 PM  
Blogger His suzy said...

Aww, Liz. Are you trying to make everyone else cry too? Sharing the hormones? lol

That's really sweet. And I think my family has improved with time too, even if only a little bit. Like they say, just recognizing there's a problem is often the first step!

8:29 PM  
Blogger Frema said...

I struggle with this, too. Growing up, I had great relationships with aunts and uncles on both sides of the family, but the older I got, the more..."transparent" things became, and now I barely speak to the majority of my relatives on my father's side. He and his siblings are constantly fighting with each other, and I pretty much write off anyone who's disrespectful to my parents. I think a lot about the relationships I have with my own siblings and hope we can all stay close. Things are looking good so far. My sister Samantha and her husband Dan are godparents to Kara, and I love seeing how much they love her. They also make it a point to visit us in Indy on a fairly regular basis, which means a lot, because not many of my relatives do.

It sounds like your little boy will have many people in his life who love him. :)

10:43 PM  
Blogger J.M. Tewkesbury said...

Excellent post! And I think your son is going to be very, very well loved and looked after.

7:33 PM  
Blogger Caro said...

What a sweet post. Most of my extended family lives in Maine and I feel like my kids miss out on a lot.

They do have two sets of grandparents here who are four hours away and the kids love seeing them.

11:17 AM  

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