How do you define what family means? I admit, I'm always pondering this notion after an extended visit with one or more of my clan. This particular visit had some interesting twists, as I am recovering from heart surgery, it is a balmy 17 degrees for my Texas mom, and my children are struggling to make sense of what has happened to all of us.
My mom is semi-retiring from her law practice and is closing on the sale of her building next week. To say this was an inopportune time for her to fly across the country is an understatement. She left Texas last Sunday morning at 6:20am and arrived at our door at 9:30pm. Currently, she is driving in a cab from Bradley airport in Conneticut to Logan airport in Boston because the airlines overbooked her flight. She is scheduled to leave Boston at 10:30pm tonight. She will not make it because we are expecting a big storm. She will most likely spend a good portion of tomorrow trying to get out of the Northeast.
So here is the first part of my definition of family: Family shows up......no matter how inconvienent and how messy. Family shows up.
When we make it to each other, go easy with one another. Sometimes we have aged since last we spent time together, sometimes we are in pain, scared, and vulnerable. The old struggles have become a default position and we need to hit "delete" and begin anew. I'm not sure why that is harder to do with family than with anyone else.
I have noticed over many years that the perfect storm occurs when parents have one idea about their children, and grandparents have quite another. When I was a girl, I thought my grandmother was going to give my stepdad a blackeye when he ate one of my hardboiled easter eggs. She was a churchgoing woman but you did not mess with her grandkids. Having kids is Karma with a big K. You get to be in charge of these tiny lives....so filled with promise and challenges. Odds are, you are going to do it differently than your parents think you should. Odds are, you can be a bit sensitive about how you are parenting. When you all disagree, remember that it all stems from love....even when you are shouting and hurling insults at one another. (that might be the Texas part of this story:)
So, a family is bound by love. Family is an arena where we can employ the old-fashioned trait of duty. Where do we get to do that, anymore? My mother made a promise to my grandmother that she would not allow her to languish in a nursing home. She had to fight hard to keep that promise but keep it she did. My father made the same promise to his father and he kept his word. I watched them all struggle.
Love, struggle, duty, and compassion. No wonder things are so intense. Still, we aren't going to quit on one another and that, in the end, is what family is all about.