Things aren’t always what they seem. part 1.
If someone were to see my Instagram account, they might think that I’m a big family person. She must be so close with her family. She’s making a family wall hanging. She’s writing a family book for her kids. Family seems really important to her.
And for a long time, I would have said the opposite.
I chose to live 20 hours away from my family.
My mom, dad, aunts, uncles, cousins… are all 20 hours away. I’m the only one living in Southern Ontario (or as we say, “down east”). To see my family, we need to fly to Thunder Bay and then get into a car to drive for 4.5 + hours west.
I grew up in a small town of 1,200 people. It’s a place where you wave at vehicles passing by because you actually know who it is. A place where you can say that Eila lives in the blue house and the Reid’s are across the street. Weekends are spent in arenas, curling clubs, or at the lake. It’s a community where people look out for each other.
It’s also small in more ways than one.
Emo is a little bubble. You’re surrounded by the same people you’ve known since you were a kid. The closest bookstore is 2-3 hours away. The newest thing to happen… there was an accident, a new baby was born, someone got a new boat or truck, or someone new moved into town (in 9 years, I got two new classmates).
When I call home, I often ask Mom: “What’s new? What’s new in town?” Which is another way of saying, what’s going on with everyone? I get updates about people’s health and family. Local gossip is what’s “new.”
And there is an ease to that lifestyle.
I love going home. There’s no rushing around. People don’t talk about work; they talk with each other. They ask, How are you? They just sit down and visit. They enjoy each other’s company and laugh. They don’t need to go anywhere in particular. Being is enough.
And yet I know that living back home is not for me.
I wanted to live somewhere with bookstores, museums, and new things to do. I wanted to go away to university and experience something different. I wanted to meet new people.
I love my family and I also value learning and growing.
Sometimes I question whether I’m a selfish person because I should make family my number one priority. If I did, my parents wouldn’t be forced to see their grandchildren only when one of us makes the flight from one place to the other.
It’s a weird pull between loving where I am (in Toronto) and being so far away from my family. It’s like being stuck between two places.
Thankful. Part 2.
I love my parents. They are very supportive and have given me the space to be myself.
I was in grade 8 when I got on a flight to Chicago by myself. I wanted to visit my friend, Kim, for New Years Eve. I was 12 years old and navigating the Chicago O’Hare airport on my own.
I chose to attend a university 20 hours away from home with no one close by to help me. My parents made the long drive through Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and back into Ontario to get to St. Catharines. They helped me set up my room in residence.
I chose to live in Southern Ontario. They have made many trips to Toronto to help us move into various homes and to help with renos. I will never forget the number of boxes my mom moved around (filled with my books) and the work my dad did in tearing down walls, installing flooring, and doing electrical. They did so much.
They are not parents with a lot of advice to give. Well, Dad tries and then Mom usually steps in to remind him that it’s our decision to make. That’s for them to decide. She’s big on that and I’m so thankful. She gave us the gift of freedom and choice. It’s probably why I value freedom so much.
Families can be complicated. Part 3.
Our family feels volatile.
liable to change rapidly and unpredictably, especially for the worse.
We never know what will happen when we’re together.
We love each other and always hope for a good visit. A visit where there are no fights or blow outs. Where everyone gets along and there are no hard feelings. Those visits are starting to happen more often.
Mom bottles things up. She doesn’t talk much about how she’s feeling unless it’s related to work. I can remember Gram saying, she never says anything. She could be going through something and never say anything to anyone about it. Mom can take a lot until she blows.
Dad is very moody. One moment he seems fine and the next he is pissed off about something. The littlest of things can set him off. Drinking makes things worse; then he’s either angry or crying about the past.
And I’m a combination of them both. I can keep a lot inside too and then eventually blow. My mood is also up and down. I often think about how difficult it must be for Eric to live with me. He never knows what he will be coming home to. I’m working on it though.
And my brother, for those who know me, might not even know I have one. And it makes sense why – I never talk about him. I felt like an only child for 20+ years.
So an emotional family all under one roof made for an interesting childhood. I’m not trying to make anyone look bad or to place blame. I was a part of it too.
We are highly emotional. We feel deeply – which can be a good thing. We are quick to help others and are very empathetic. We care about people. It’s just challenging as we navigate one another.
Gram was the family member I felt the closest to (besides my parents). She was steady and always the same. I knew what I was getting with Gram. She was quick to say how proud she was of me. She was affectionate. I can remember her running her fingers through my long hair. She knew my love language.
She was our glue. She didn’t try pushing my brother and I together. She recognized that we were different and I so appreciated that. My mom, on the other hand, was the one who tried to get involved (which is likely what most moms would do).
Gram was an example of freedom to me. She encouraged me to pursue what I wanted to despite the opinions or concerns of others. I know a lot of who I am is because of her. And yet her and Dad didn’t always get along.
Like I said, families can be complicated.
I do believe that kids bring people back together, especially families.
For the sake of our kids, I’m now doing the hard work of mending relationships and having uncomfortable conversations for the purpose of starting again and moving forward in a new way.
I find myself interested in family for the first time in a long time. I admire those families that get together for Sunday dinners every week. I admire families where the siblings are actually close friends.
Family is a concept that is feeling less foreign to me. It feels like something I get to create anew.
I am excited and hopeful for the family my kids will experience.
I want our kids to grow up celebrating the holidays with as many family members as possible (from both Eric and my family). I want us to have silly family traditions: of waking up to early morning surprises of balloons and presents on birthday mornings. To make pizza and have movie nights on Fridays. I want us to create a family mantra – for how we care for each other and others. I want to teach our kids that you treat your family like gold. They aren’t the ones to take your crap. I want to be very intentional in how we nurture and support family in our home. It will impact their lives.