Monday, August 10, 2009

We Are Family: A Wedding

Little girl taking me by the hand, sleepy eyes, whispering, "It's time for me to go to bed."

A little girl who loves olives more than any other food.

Little girl creeping in, along with her sister, to the family room, where D and I are sleeping on the pull-out sofa. "Are they awake?"


"I think they're awake."

"Mommy said we're not supposed to wake them."

I lie there, trying not to laugh, getting ready to "wake-up" suddenly and throw them into fits of giggles.

Middle school girl getting ready to move from everything she's ever known in Massachusetts to completely unknown Tennessee for her 8th grade year. It's going to be tough. I know this, as an 8th grade teacher. We discuss social strategies.

Dinner in New York, just moved there with her boyfriend. They're breaking into theater, he's doing tech, she's stage managing. She looks great - sparkling eyes and the same dimpled smile the sleepy girl had.

Last Saturday, a young woman dances, gazing dreamily into the eyes of that same boyfriend, now husband. She is heartbreakingly beautiful, her red hair caught up into a twist with "diamonds", her dress a clinging drape of lace and pearls.

She's currently in San Francisco, enjoying her first week of married life with her longtime love.

And yet, my lovely niece, whom I've seen all too rarely since we both moved from Massachusetts, was not the big surprise this past weekend.

Families are complicated. We all know that. We all know the phrase "You can choose your friends, but..."

Sometimes our own family is challenging, sometimes our significant other has the challenging group, and sometimes you may love both, but there are those particular personalities who just throw you, no matter how hard you try to suck it up and breathe tolerance.

For a variety of reasons, I hadn't seen many of these family members of D's for a long, long time. There wasn't any estrangement, it was more a matter of circumstances - moves, blizzards, illness, elderly parent needs, lack of communication.

Seeing them all again, I was struck how my earlier interpretations of behavior and personality were radically wrong. As I've aged, I see people who are far less powerful, less secure, than I once thought. People I saw as kinder are maybe less so, and those I used to fear a bit, seem more desperate than arrogant.

A wonderful experience was meeting and re-meeting some of my delightful sister-in-law's family members - I enjoyed each and every one of them, and I understand even more why I like her so much.

It was definitely a weekend of new-found knowledge.

What about you? What family (or other) relationships have you managed to see in a new light? Do you see your close relationships as everlasting or everchanging?


Dru said...

We have a small fammily, just my mom and my sisters. The one sister that I thought was stronger and had a head on her shoulders suprised me when she allowed herself to be in a strangled relationship. We were close but now she's distance herself from the family.

The sister that I'm most close to I see growing as we age.

Goofball said...

My relationships with my family often depend on my own patience, fatigue and moods as well. Sometimes I find "those that chatter constantly" amusing & cute, sometimes endlessly irritating for example. Sometimes I am happy with some good advice, sometimes I am so annoyed by their predictable judging and mingling :p

I think people evolve a bit and so do I and that's why relationships are not totally constant. But the base usually is constant though.

Jen said...

Dru, it's very sad when that sort of thing happens. D's family is pretty small, but then as you go through the generations it's gotten much larger. I hope your sister can break free of the damaging relationship and finds her way back to you and your other sister and your mom.

Goofball - I like your stating that the base is usually constant - and the mood thing is very true, too. Absolutely!

painted maypole said...

ust spent last week in Cabo with my inlaws, and although they are nice people, it gets old very quickly. I can't just sit by the pool for a week without quietly going crazy. But my MIL and FIL are old and not in good health, and that is more than enough for them. I also find it difficult to know how to engage MQ with them... because they make little effort. I know they love her and enjoy her company, but I think that between their age and then their social expectations of adults/children they don't engage much, and find the onus on me. sigh.

sorry. i could write a whole post on it except i'm pretty sure they are silently reading my blog, so I won't. ;)

Jen said...

I think many of us have been there, PM! It's so hard when grandparents are much, much older and just don't "get" their grandchildren.

Brian Miller said...

you paint a beautiful picture of her growing up to this seems my views of family grow and change with maturity as well. my strained relationship with my sister has mellowed...we don't always agree but it has moved beyond tolerance to love again. i agree with own patience seems to play a role...we are a lot more forgiving with strangers it seems than the ones we are close times. great piece jen!

Jen said...

Thanks for the kind words, Brian. I was really glad that Goofball brought up the patience factor. The significant other of one family member was brought in to meet everyone for the first time this weekend, and it was clear that she was straining to go by the end of the weekend. I think she might have felt differently if it had been a different weekend/occasion, perhaps. I'm glad that you're doing better with your sister - I had ups and downs with mine, but she died many years ago and I always wonder what life would be like if I had more than just my mom left at this point.

Korie said...

I have my own opinions of certain people in my family. Some are more positive than others but the core group I love and typically get along with and enjoy being around.

CB's family is much more distant and his father chooses not to speak English so I haven't managed much closeness with him. I really like his sister and nieces. But as for the extended family, I think I've seen them 3 times total in the 19 months I've lived here.

Jen said...

Wow, Lilac, that's a little intimidating in terms of his dad, but do you think he's just really embarrassed about his English? I'm glad you get along well with his sister and nieces. This is the first time D's family has all been in one place in seven years, so I think some families are just different than others. When my family had more members we were together whenever possible (which has its own set of problems, ha, ha!)

Linda said...

By marrying a man from half way around the world, my relationships with the in-laws is different from that of most other folks. My mother-in-law could not speak a word of English but always treated me with love and respect. My father-in-law said to someone that he liekd me but it was hard to tell since custom dictated that I get up and leave the room whenever he entered it. It has been a long time since I was in India so have not had contact with the other relatives as more and more of them have learned English. I am still a huge novelty so don't think that any relationships there will evolve beyond banalities.

As for my family--well they are all a little odd, I suppose. What I always noticed when we got together when my parents were alive was how quickly and easily we slipped into all of the old habits--most of which I worked so hard to escape. I have in recent years gotten to know my niece and nephew as adults and finding that they are clearly partly my brother, but growing into interesting adults--whether inpite of my brother or because of he is hard to tell.

Jen said...

Linda, I think you bring up a good point about falling into old habits when everyone gets back together - for children returning, I think they regress a bit - even if they're fully "grown-up". Also, I think who is actually traveling makes a difference, too - I know I'm far more relaxed when I'm at home, even if I'm hosting, than if I'm staying elsewhere and out of my comfort zone and STILL needing to interact with everyone.

Heather of the EO said...

I know I regress a bit at family gatherings. It's so strange to feel like you're two people in those situations.

This post was beautiful, the way you described the circumstances of lives in such a loving way. Loved it.

Virtualsprite said...

We have a lot of issues in my family and in my husband's family. I think the worst one is my husband's parents. They divorced more than 30 years ago and refuse to speak or even be in the same building. But we refuse to indulge them. My father-in-law is pretty much over it, but my mother-in-law refuses to let it go. So we just refuse to let her badmouth him. When she starts, we ignore her and start a new discussion. After all, it's been three decades! Otherwise, it's mostly little stuff. You can't let this stuff get to you because family is family. You may not like them, but when the chips are down, family is what you have.

Jen said...

Heather - thanks so much for stopping by and for the kind words! I agree that it's easy to regress in those settings, and yes, it does feel weird, doesn't it?

Virtual - oh. So wise. You're handling this beautifully and I'm sorry that you all have to "handle" it at all.

Momisodes said...

This really is such a coincidence we both felt inclined to post about family this week. I loved the way you wrote this. Family really can be a tangled, complicated weave.

My situation is nearly the same as VirtualSprite's, and I love what she wrote in her comment, too. I can relate on so many levels. But unfortunately, in our case, when the chips are down, some of our family would be the last thing we would have.

Jeanie said...

This is wonderful and you really do nail it about families -- not being able to choose them. Rick has a brother with whom I just want to argue - and I don't argue. But it's family and you suck it up and over time, everyone mellows. At least, we hope everyone mellows!

My thoughts are with your niece -- that's a tough age to relocate; I'm glad she has you.

Jen said...

Momisodes - my post was really prompted by this wedding, watching the little girl grow into this amazing young woman and realizing that many people are different from my earlier impressions. I'm just sorry that you're in a situation that's so difficult.

Jeanie - she had to relocate years ago - I guess I didn't make that clear and if she hadn't relocated, she wouldn't have met her new husband! They both met in high school in TN. ;-)

Shan said...

What a lovely post about your niece. Family relationships can be interesting. I think goofball pretty well sums up how I feel about my family relationships.

Jen said...

I think she summed it up for a lot of us, Shan!

Thistlemoon said...

Wow, this is a big one Jen! I know for myself, moving to FL to be closer to family made me see some members in a much brighter light, and I realize now unfortunately that I don't want them to be a part of my life. That is tough, and not something I would have ever imagined feeling. Weird stuff.

As for my husband's family that live on the other side of the world, even though we don't have common language - I do wish we spent more time with them!

Susan @ SGCC said...

My family is very complicated as well. There are some that I see only sporadically, and each time we can just pick up where we left off. Others that live five minutes away, are all but impossible to be around. There is always one who always seems to be trying to tear everyone apart. And, there is always one who is the glue holding everyone together. My dad was our glue, and now he's gone. My SIL is the "tearer-aparter" - and she's still here.

Jen said...

Jenn - it's interesting how those dynamics can shift over time. As I've found out recently, though, things may shift again - you never know.

Susan - that's a shame in terms of the person who likes to tear things apart. Life is too short. I know there are some estrangements (in another generation of D's family) that occurred for a similar reason.

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

My family is very small and there has been many fights as well as stories. I only have contact with my grandmother... For me, unfortunately, family equals problems!



Jen said...

Rosa, I'm sorry to hear this! One common theme from all of the comments here seems to be "families are complicated!"