About 20 years ago I went to hear Kurt Vonnegut speak. I was living in Columbia, SC at the time. He was asked what is the most serious problem facing the US. I thought he would say poverty or nuclear weapons. His answer surprised me.
He said it is the death of the extended family. I dismissed it then, now I realize he is absolutely right. When I was growing up in Midland, TX I had family living in the city. We would visit them or they would visit us. I realize now that when my parents needed help in some way, my aunt and uncle were always there. My aunt and uncle had two children and I loved it when we saw them.
In my adult life pre and post C (before and after children) I did not or do not live close to my family. Numerous times I wish they were closer. Not to babysit or anything like that, but learn from them and see them as people. My Sitie (Lebanese for grandmother) would come to visit us during Christmas and spend almost a month with us. She was a wonderful listener (a trait my mother, wife, and sister share). I did not realize it at the time, but it made that holiday very special. Our Thanksgiving would be spent in Fort Worth with my father’s parents and his siblings. It was quite a change. Very loud, but that happens when you have so many people in a home. It also is a very big football gathering. My male cousins and uncles loved to watch football on Thanksgiving Day and they were not shy about voicing an opinion. It also let me see a side of my father that I will always cherish.
Somewhat infrequently we get offers to go to places with friends or visit them in distant cities. I always appreciate the invitations, but it is hard to do. We usually spend what free time we have visiting family. I don’t regret it. Anyone who knows my parents would probably agree that they are interesting and talented people. My sister is one of the sweetest and the best hostess you would ever hope to know. She is also just a lot of fun. Her daughter is an absolute delight. Her husband is always gracious. When we go to visit my parents, we stop and see my wife’s family. They are very kind and entertaining people. It gets to be quite loud when her whole family is together, but that because of the number of kids.
When we visit my family, it is just valuable spending time and sitting down to share a meal. Or going to fun activities with families (for example picking apples in an apple orchard) creates memories. I want my kids to have so many memories of their family that they struggle to remember all of them.
Yet something is missing. In an era of easy communications and a multitude of choices, it seems we are more distant. I think it is because we have several options, but they feel almost cold.
As my kids grow, I regret that we do not see our family more. I want my kids to know everything about their grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. Each one offers an insight to the family. The more time I spend with the family, the more I am amazed. Sometimes one of my children do something and it reminds me of one of my parents or my sister. The support structure I took for granted is something I dearly miss today. If you have it, cherish it.