We Don't Live Anywhere Near Our Family – Kveller
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We Don’t Live Anywhere Near Our Family

The night I realized that we had nobody to parent our children for a stretch of October, I cried.

My husband had a major conference in Reno, and I had a 10-day festival to run. That left us with no one.

For lots of folks, this kind of problem has an easy fix: Granny Nanny. But eight years ago my husband and I, childless and independent, moved to DC, leaving the closest grandparent five hours away.

These days, scrambling to care for our little nuclear family, I wonder: maybe we should have thought that move through a little more carefully?

Separately and together, my husband and I have always been the rugged individualists of our families. In stark contrast to the siblings who stayed super close to home, we both got the hell out of Dodge. Not because we were unhappy, but because we were just super independent, intent on forging our own paths.

Even today, the thought of moving to my hometown gives me shudders (sorry, Mom). And yet, more and more I see how life geographically isolated from your extended family simply doesn’t quite work, financially or emotionally. When the nanny calls in sick, nobody’s around to save you from a lost day of work. Date night is completely nonexistent–who can afford to pay $60 to see a $20 movie? We’re on our own.

When we join up with the clan, I can’t help feeling like we’re some kind of beautiful but invasive species–lovely to see but deeply disruptive to the ecosystem. My sister and her kids are in and out of my parents’ house all week every week. My husband’s siblings spend more nights at their parents than not. And then we arrive, taking over familiar spaces, making difficult demands, breaking all the rhythms of their family life together.

I also fear that my kids are not really getting to know their grandparents. I remember my Nanny and Poppy in a rich and nuanced way–the songs my Poppy sang, the way it felt to cuddle with him and Nana and listen to stories. Am I giving my kids the opportunity to forge the same kind of intimate connections?

And the opposite problem–are my folks really getting to know my kids in all their complicated beauty? Or do they just see the strung-out, overtired, routine-starved challenges my kids morph into when they go on a road trip?

Meanwhile, I know that we’ve been saved all the hard parts of being part of the extended family–the constant emotional negotiations and such. And we’re forging our own way as a little family of four. But at what price?

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