HAVING JUST RETURNED from my oldest son’s wedding in Florida, I’ve been thinking a lot about family this week. Images of the bride’s family and of mine keep flashing through my mind—a grand mix of ethnicity, language, and age. Traditional images of family are turned upside-down when our children and grandchildren are the same age, when brothers and sisters are as old or older than our new parents-in-law, when half-sisters are unknown, and we meet our grandparents for the first time in our thirties. Yet, in this messy and very real mix, the women still prepare food together in the kitchen, comforting arms slap around male shoulders, hands reach lovingly for other hands, smiles connect our hearts to one another’s, and tears fall in a recognizable mix of joy and hope for the future.
I think of my second son, walking in line at Universal Studios. “Moo … moo … baa … baa…,” he mimics, an uncharacteristic tolerance smoothing his brow. “I don’t understand why they think that herding us into a large room where we pretend to be prisoners, and frightening little children through the threat of ‘torture,’ is supposed to be entertaining,” he says, while waiting to be admitted to the Shrek show. I don’t either, and leave the line with the older, and more sensitive, of my two granddaughters who have come to Florida for the wedding. While we wait for the others to emerge from their simulated torture, we buy a soda, have her face painted, and stand in line to talk to a costumed Shrek and Donkey. These, it seems to me, are just as novel pleasures for a little girl.
I think of my oldest son, walking quickly before us in his quest to get to the next attraction, never looking back to see if we have managed to keep up, his stride through the park as focused as his stride through life. My daughter, on the other hand, continuously stops, distracted by a picture-taking opportunity or something to buy, until we shout at her to pay attention. My youngest son, patiently plods along with the rest of us, a half-amused smile curling the corners of his mouth. The difficulty of moving a family group of eleven as one unit through a theme park seems no less daunting than moving that same unit through life. Sometimes we lose each other in the process.
The day of the wedding, when we awake to storm clouds and rain, when the bride-to-be melts down while having her pedicure, because the flowers have already begun to turn brown and her mother couldn’t be with her during her preparations, I am glad to be there to be the voice of comfort and experienced perspective. I know the sun will come out, that friends will fix the flower arrangements with new flowers, and that all will be perfect for the wedding. And, somehow, it is.
I wish that I’d had more time to get to know my new daughter-in-law’s family, but Florida is a long way from California, and it’s not likely that I’ll have that opportunity. At the same time, I miss my ex-daughter-in-law, knowing that though we do our best to stay connected, such connections have a way of parting company when the marriage that began them no longer exists. I wish that my children lived closer to me, so that visiting them and my grandchildren would not be the monumental effort it always seems to be. I wish that my brothers and I were closer, fearing that my children will end up separated from each other by more than distance. But all of these wishes and fears melt away, replaced by the romance of the wedding, when vows are exchanged, and love and hope are held in the palms of our hearts.
I think of the movies that have been made about families—some humorous, some tragic—all laden with the weight of history and obligation. And isn’t it true? We go to our family reunions and gatherings with a multitude of often unnamed feelings, from dread to patience, from tolerated pain to happiness, from distrust to love.
I believe that it’s important to capture these experiences and emotions by putting words to paper (or computer screen). Not to analyze or interpret, but to record and express, to let the reader—even if that reader is only oneself—understand life through our eyes and hearts, something that a movie camera cannot accomplish. Our writing can be kept private, or we may choose to later harvest some of it for memoir or as a fictionalized nugget of character. It doesn’t matter. What matters is the story. What matters is the writing.
So now, I invite you to think about your family. Remember a recent or long-ago gathering. How were you together? How was it to be you in that gathering? Describe the scene, the conversations, and the feelings as they flow through your mind and heart. Then, if you’re so inclined, share your story by pasting it into the comment field below, or post it on your blog and send me the link to post here.
Family—so much meaning stuffed inside such a small word.