To me family is everything. I hear that Gen Xers, as a group, tend to feel this way. Somehow the 60s and 70s were not focused on family and so between our tinfoil covered TV dinners and the reruns of “Love, American Style” apparently society forgot about the kids.
I don’t know if that is totally true for me. As a young child I went to work everyday with my mom. We drove from the house-farm suburbs of Bloomington, Minnesota to just south of downtown Minneapolis every morning. I remember eating triangles of cinnamon toast as I slid across the backseat while she zoomed around the city lakes. She ran a large daycare center in what had once been a posh hotel, taking over the former restaurant and beauty salon. We kids found pink plastic curler picks in the cracks and crevices of one room for years.
I know I didn’t like sharing my mom with 60 other kids. But I did get to invite a friend to wash-up back in the kitchen sink before lunch, so there were perks.
Long before I had my own family, I knew that I wanted to put family in the center of my life. I was lucky. Because give or take a year or two, I did.
I had to work in one way or another the whole time my sons were growing up, but we were able to put in huge amounts of time together, sometimes driving to a dozen activities every afternoon, but I felt like I was able to center family and pour my mother-soul into the raising of my family.
But then, they left. They had the audacity to grow up and leave. OK, sure, there was some time between an undergrad degree and grad school when I got a few bonus months with one. And there was a fabulous gap year before a four year college for another. We’re not done, of course, maybe they will come back and share a house like most of the world does with their family. I will not complain if that happens, nope.
Still, right now, all three are thousands of miles away from me in places where they live and I don’t. My heart sometimes feels like the silly putty we used to press on the comics in the newspaper, to lift an image, way back in the 70s. I remember pulling the silly putty to stretch the Family Circus.. Eventually, it would snap.
A few days ago I was feeling so far from my sons: it has been four months since I’ve seen the one farthest away. But it was OK, because it was family Skype night. We don’t even use Skype but that’s still what we call it. We set a time and send a video conference invitation, and then I get to see the bits of my heart all collected on the computer screen.
No, it’s not the same as being together. It’s no substitution for cooking food that they will eat and big squeezing hugs. But this week I felt especially lonely for them. So as people popped in contained in little squares on my screen I felt like I could breathe again. Together.
I get to see their houses or apartments a little. A new map on the wall? A cat strolls by. One got a haircut, one has hair long enough that he now needs a hair band. There are inside jokes and birth order tickling of the childhood grudges. We laugh and laugh. As much as we try to be done without taking too much time from the young people, we often go two hours.
This puts me back together. In a million ways. I’m sure we will find out that millennials and Gen Z or whatever they’ll be called are damaged in their own way, too. We probably over programmed them and fed them way too much fast food. But I am thankful that I was so lucky and had a family and took time to notice and savor the busy years.
I’m also thankful that they grew up and will still set aside time, every week, to talk to me.