The Daily News

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Deconstructing My Family

Children mentioned...

Off in the way way distant future (since we've already decided that the ChickieNob needs to remain pure and virginal until she's about 38), when the twins are married with children of their own, I want them to hang out in my kitchen. I want to be baking cookies and slapping their hands away from the ones on the cooling racks and hearing about their problems at work. I want to be the go-to person for babysitting. I mean, the other grandmother can be a go-to person too, but I want to babysit instead of someone outside the family.

Even if they end up living far away and can't spend every evening in my kitchen (since that would be a lot of cookies and possibly a heart attack waiting to happen), I want them to be anxious that I'm still going to make a huge Succot meal that they can attend or host the family vacation each summer at our lavish beach house (oh...because if you're going to wish, you should wish big and include a beach house).

In other words, I want to hip check Sally Field off the set of Brothers & Sisters and appropriate the space for my own family to live life like the Walkers.

I didn't start watching Brothers & Sisters until the writer's strike so I'm picking up the second season DVD today so I can catch up on the first half of the season which I missed the first time around. I like family television shows. It started with Family Ties--I was completely obsessed with Family Ties and wrote Michael J. Fox a love letter that is still quoted in my family to this day. There was Growing Pains and Party of Five. I'm surprised it took me so long to find Brothers & Sisters.

I think people watch family dramas for different reasons. I watch Brothers & Sisters with a fellow blogger (we exchange emails as we watch the episode) and she watches it because it's the family she always wished she had. I thought that I watched it because it's the family I do have--I'm close with my siblings and while we all live far apart (albeit on the east coast), we do tend to congregate at my parent's house. We play dirty Mah Jongg and tease my mother that we're going to make popcorn on her clean stovetop. This summer, I'll go on holiday with my sister and my brother just helped me pick up the twins from preschool on the first day I left the building. I thought I liked the television show because it reminded me of that cozy sense of family where my brothers (I call my brother-in-law my brother because once you enter our family, you are simply family without qualifiers) helped us run the twins' birthday party or taking my niece to the zoo.

But I think it's more than that. It's about what I want for myself not on this plateau--with my own brothers and sister--it's about this distant future where I am the mother and I am the grandmother.

We were watching an episode from the first season of Brothers & Sisters a few nights ago and I heard myself blurt out, "I want that. I want five children."

But I don't. I mean, I don't want five babyhoods back-to-back. I am barely surviving the emotions of having the twins in preschool the first time around--I can't imagine putting myself through this four more times.

What I really mean is that I want to have five grown children who are all close to one another and close to me. I want the full house--I want the overfull house. My mother has what I want and she can't tell me what she did to get it. When we're all there with our partners and our children and we're taking over her space, the house is so damn full. It is loud and boisterous and we're tormenting each other with all the ways we teased each other as children and we're caring for each other in ways you can only do as an adult.

And I'm scared that our house will never feel full. I know it's not about a number. You can get that fullness with two children. You can get fullness with one child. So I know that it's not just about having a third child. The volume doesn't come from the number of people.

My fear comes from this: whether or not I get that true sense of fullness--the volume and energy that comes from people who enjoy being with one another--is completely outside my control. You can't create that. You make so many decisions for your children that you forget that you can't control whether they love you. Whether they want to be with you when they're older's a choice. It's a choice we all make--do we want to cut ties or do we want to remain close or do we want to walk a middle road of obligation without the joy that comes from having your heart fully invested in the decision.

I don't know how to ensure that I get the fullness of family in the future. I get a strong sense that the stage is being set right now--that there are life experiences that push people one way or the other and it's not solely events that occur in the house. Our personalities, how we see the world, are shaped by everyone we come in contact with during our life.

And it terrifies me--this starting of preschool--because for the first time, the twins are outside the home. They are being influenced by others and those others are affecting how the twins view themselves and view our home and view their own wants and needs. It's a lot of power to put on another person, but I do believe that other people hold a lot of power unless we consciously wrest power from them. And I don't think that a four-year-old is capable of that.

So I do have a lot of fears that others won't be gentle with them. Gentle with their hearts. I know that they won't because I've certainly never met a person who got through life only interacting with those who were kind. We've all run into shitty people. Even good people, who have never done anything purposeful to make us feel shitty end up affecting us anyway when we compare ourselves. All of it serves a purpose--to build character, to teach us how we want to treat people in life, to guide us towards those who do have our best interests at heart. But along the way, before we get to the point, those people also shape who we are and lead us either away or towards family.

It's a lot of blame to put on preschool. I mean, if things go right and I end up with the adult children all crammed in my sukkah for a Succot dinner, I'm certainly not going to give those fellow preschoolers credit for raising children who want to remain close with family. But if things go wrong, you better believe I'm holding that crappy little child accountable who said rude things to my son last week.

Rather than spend another minute fuming about that child (because, believe me, I have spent way too many minutes wishing that the crappy child fails all of her future spelling tests in school and gets held back to a lower grade's spelling group...which happened to me so I know it feels exquisitely humiliating), I am going to head off to the mall to purchase the second season of Brothers & Sisters. And covet--not the sibling relationships per se, but the mother who has all of her children still around her.


bleu said...

I relate to so much of what you wrote. I want that full family around feeling for sure, but I believe you CAN do things to encourage it and nurture it.

I believe there is a lot that can be done and a lot to NOT be done to foster a family that prefers spending time with each other.

niobe said...

As I read this, I wonder if losses make other losses easier. I already know that my house will never be full. So that's one less thing I have to worry about.

HereWeGoAJen said...

I feel certain that you will get that full house. There will be children, relatives, and friends. Plus, I've seen pictures of your cooking, you'll be beating people off with sticks. :)

Lori Lavender Luz said...

I love that show, too. And the way the adult children are both adults and children with each other.

As for your vision of a full kitchen of children and granchildren, the only way to it is through it. Your kids each come with their stories to unfold. Your job is to equip them and then trust the process.

Ironically, this releasing is what will bring them back to your kitchen forever and ever.

When all of Blogland would LOVE to be in your kitchen, do you really doubt that you and Josh have already created a place for "people who enjoy being with one another"?

I would bet it all that you will be experience Fullness over and over again. You draw Fullness to you.

Cynthia said...

Wow! What you said is so true! Unfortunately/fortunately, everything in life influences our family members and children, so I can only hope that my children, one day, and other family members will want to be around each other and cherish each other's company.

Cara said...

Yes - the real world begins to influence them and their "social perspective" as early as preschool! But, here is the GOOD NEWS! In preschool you still have some intense parent / teacher / program communication....not to intensify your fears ...but just wait until Kindergarten! (don't worry...we'll all still be here!)

AnotherDreamer said...

Hmmm. Thanks for posting these thoughts. You know, as a child I always wanted my family to be closer. I have 4 siblings, but I'm only close to one of them. The others I talk to less than a handful of times a year.

I always hoped I could get that sense of family closeness one day in my own children, I could have the family I never had. And here I am, just my husband and I. Not that I haven't been happy with him the last 5 years, it's just that I feel so incomplete.

Rebecca said...

Ahhhh...if only life were more like Hollywood. I also like Brothers and Sisters and would love it if my current family and future family were like that. But, you can ask my Mom, having all your kids close isn't always the best thing. Despite the fact that we all seem to get along when we get together, both my brothers (but one in particular) cause my Mom a lot of stress. In fact, it's gotten so bad she wishes that he would move a little bit farther away.

Amy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Amy said...

(my delete, sorry)
I always wanted a big family too. When I was younger, I wanted more siblings, and I would constantly hound my single mother to have more babies, LOL! Then I wanted to have like five kids myself. I wanted big holiday gatherings. Chaos. Laughter. Crowded kitchens. Like in My Big Fat Greek Wedding. That was my dream. Unfortunately, my only sibling passed away last year so I'm now an only-child -- and the mother of an only-child. My husband has one brother far away. Our family is small and organized and quiet. Yet, somehow, I'm overflowing with joy and fulfillment. I hope for you that whatever your family is, whatever it becomes, that you can too feel complete :-).
Hugs and blessings.

Kristin said...

Both my parents and my in-laws (now only my MIL), have that full house when family visits. I really hope I have it one day.

Chris said...

I desperately long for the same thing. There used to be a program on the WB (slightly embarassed face here) called Related that gave me the same sense.

Jess said...

Oh yeah. I feel you.

I think that part of why I want another kid is to up the chances of at least one of them STAYING AROUND HERE. Scary, the prospect of them all leaving!!

I think those of us who really truly WANT kids in the deepest sense of the the sense that we feel it's our LIFE'S WORK to have and raise wonderful humans...we are the ones who are most scared by the idea of having them all leave us for distant parts of the country/earth. Because if you spend your whole lifetime loving someone, it'd be so empty without them near.

Lisa said...

Wow, that hit home. I so very much want and crave that, as well, and it saddens me immensely that I don't have it. My sister and brother are both single and will probably always be. I keep thinking that, if I could just bring grandchildren into my parents home it would bring that kind of "noise" that I so crave. Even in Glenn's family I don't feel it. Although there are 4 grandchildren and we are close to his mother and most of them, they don't have those gatherings that I so desire.

Continue to cherish what you have at your mother's and with your siblings and, somehow, it will evolve to your home!

Duffy said...

I love that show too! My husband and I watch it with both sadness and hope. Sadness because we don't have that with our parents and siblings and hope that we can somehow create that for our child(ren) to come.

Also - reminds me of a book you should check out: The Art of Family by Gina Bria.

AwkwardMoments said...

i connect with this show for many reasons really - but one would be that i also long for a full house of legacies

Anonymous said...

That hit very close to home for me... For our family, gatherings are generally loud and boisterous. I only have one brother, but my aunt is at most gatherings with her husband and her three children who are close to my brother and I age-wise. I want that loud loving environment to last forever. I hope that foster-to-adopt brings that home for me - no matter how many children the universe sees fit to bring in to my home.

Michelle said...

I absolutely love this show and it is because I long for that big family. I grew up with just my sister and my mom and have always wanted lots of brothers and sisters. My mom, my sister and I are very close but sometimes it feels we are missing something. As the years pass with no baby, my dreams get further and further of having the big family. I hope your dreams do come true!

Donielle said...

My hubby and I come from totally different families. Mine gets together often and we always have that 'family' feeling. His, not so much. While size may matter some to the volume issue, so much can be nurtured into a family. The way we allow our children to treat us as parents and they way they treat their siblings.

If all else fails, I'm locking mine in the basement till I die! :-)

happy ICLW!

Baby Smiling In Back Seat said...

In my experience, the healthiest versions of the family that you describe (not counting the can't-get-the-adult-child-to-move-out-of-the-basement or the grandparents-end-up-raising-grandchildren-because-parents-can't-deal families) share certain characteristics. Tremendous warmth. Openness to children's opinions. Permission for children's mistakes and bad decisions. Non-smothering.

Back to the old "If you love someone, set them free."

A while ago, I witnessed a conversation between a mother of college-age kids who had gone further away to school than she wanted despite her pressure on them to choose a college in the same city (let's call her sMother), and a mother of late-20s to mid-30s kids who had either stayed local or gone away then come back, and who all enjoy an amazing relationship with their parents and with each other (let's call her Dearest Mommy).

There have been times in life when I wished that Dearest Mommy was my mother or another relative instead of just a dear friend. No coincidence, I have never wished that sMother was related to me in any way. Let's say that we have an ambivalent relationship.

Anyway, sMother asked Dearest, "How did you do it? How did you get them all to stay near you? No matter what I do, my kids are choosing to live thousands of miles away."

Dearest explained, "I didn't do anything. Where they live is up to them. They are free to make their own choices. They happened to all choose to live nearby."

But it's no accident. Dearest is the kind of mother that, when her kids were in college, would receive phone calls asking for advice on managing a difficult class. She is not the kind that would call her children to check up on how they were doing in the class. And that is the key difference.

"I'm here for you whenever you need me" is different from "Here I am! Need me!"

Even at the age of 4, children need to work on becoming themselves, as individuals, separate from you. You don't want the kind of children who never leave your house and never interact with the world. You can provide a secure home base so that when a crappy peer invariably comes along, instead of running to hide in their bedrooms or a janitor's closet or something, they're running home to tell you all about it. And perhaps you will have cookies, but certainly you will have hugs and kindness and love.

And so, my dear Mel, I feel the need to caution you that desperation for a full house is bound to empty it. You're thinking too much about the future again. Please try to focus on parenting 4-year-olds, with all of the joy and heartache that brings, instead of worrying about what may happen in 20 or 30 years. Because continuing to focus on the future means that 30 years from now, even if your house is full of people exactly as you describe, you're going to be worrying about how long it will last and when your grandchildren will start moving apart instead of enjoying it.

I hope that you know that I say all of this out of deep caring, concern, and admiration.

Stephanie, Phil, Kayla, Logan & Alex said...

I can so relate to what you're saying. I bet you'll have the friends of your children in your house that you'll consider your own!

Brothers & Sisters is one of my favorite shows too.


Delenn said...

While I understand your post, mainly because that is partially why we wanted another child (sibling and all that), I don't worry about the future, although sometimes I ponder who my son will be when he gets to certain ages. I feel that the most important things are to respect and love him unconditionally. And to listen (which lately, with Willow, its been a bit harder to do). I want him (and his sister) to know that I am there for them.

The hardest part for me is to not control everything in his life--but as you are learning--he cannot live without being a part of the world.

And my son particularly has a hard time of it, partially because of his ADHD issues and partially because he was an only child for 9 years. And every time he stumbles in life, I bite my lip--but he gets back up and is fine. And I know he knows I am there for him. I guess that is all we can hope for.

Anonymous said...

Wow. I SO COMPLETELY relate to what you are saying here -- I want the fullness too, qualitatively and quantitatively, and it is frightening that my child(ren) might not want to be around me when they are adults, although I will do everything in my power to make sure that I foster a close and loving relationship with them. I don't watch much tv, so I don't know the show, but I come from a small and non-close family and once I saw what my friends with big families had going, I was like, I want that. It's been the overarching goal of my life ever since to achieve it. But, like you say, a lot is not within your control.

Bea said...

I definitely know what you mean about "fullness". And you know - I think you can even get that fullness without relatives, if you play your cards right. Oh did I watch one too many episodes of Friends? And two of them were related anyway... damn.

The point is. No. I don't have a point. But I think you've laid a great foundation, and you're going to keep up your end of the building project, and the rest... well I don't know how you let that go but I am optimistic you will all find your ways.


Coffeegrljapan said...

As a new parent (finally!), one of the things I've been thinking a lot about is how to create an environment in my home that makes my child and friends and other family members want to return and be with me. Especially as we enter the holiday season I'm thinking about holiday and family traditions that might inspire that kind of passion to return home and be together.