To my friends & regular visitors, a small warning: This will not be one of my typical posts- chatty & fun, talking about our adventures, or sarcastic & gripey, but essentially good-natured. I decided early on in this blogging adventure that I would be as real & transparent as decency & privacy allowed. This is one of those times.
My brother called me this morning to firm up our schedule & plans for our trip to New Mexico next week. We chatted for about 30 minutes, exchanged cell phone numbers, & agreed to both call our sister to see what she has planned for our visit. I got off the phone feeling excited, nervous, & even a little weepy. Why? It all sounds very normal, but in reality was a major event in my life. You see, this is only the second time I’ve talked directly to Bil in the past six years. I haven’t talked to Crystal in close to 9 years. Generally, news is passed through our Dad, whom each of us usually talks to every 3 or 4 months. No, we don’t have a family feud going on; it’s much sadder than that. We don’t know one another. We are disconnected, polite strangers, who share a parent & a family history, but have little or no relationship with each other. It’s the same with my other siblings- my mother’s children by her second marriage, who I shared a home with until I was 16 years old- we live within sixty miles of each other (except for Holly, who lives in Kauai), but only see each other maybe once a year, & never talk on the phone or write.
How did this happen? If you have read me for any length of time, you know how important family is to me, how much I work at building connection & memories with my children. But, in my first close relationships, I’ve let this gap form & cement itself, until it seems normal. As the “mother” of all the siblings, the link between both families, I feel like it is my responsibility to keep us connected. But since the others never say anything, don’t make any effort to be a part of our lives, maybe they don’t think it’s a problem. Could I have stopped this? Maybe. Is this my fault? Not completely. But that doesn’t keep me from feeling like it is my job to fix it. The main blame- if blame must be assigned- has to be laid on divorce, distance, & disparity in ages.
As I wrote in my “101”, my parents divorced when I was very young- under 2 years old. Mother & I moved to California, while Dad & Bil went to New Mexico. They both remarried & eventually had other children. My parents are decent, well-intentioned people, & did their best to limit the effects of the divorce on us. Never, in the 40+ years they have been apart, have I heard either one say anything negative about the other, never placed blame for the failure of their marriage on anyone but themselves, & arranged for us to spend time with the other parent. Unfortunately, they didn’t realize or understand that the short, casual visits every other summer or so, was not enough for us to develop meaningful relationships with each other. The cost & logistics of shipping children back & forth must have seemed too overwhelming, or maybe they felt that shuffling us around would be disruptive or confusing to us. Whatever the reasons, our relationships with our parents & siblings became surface only.
There was also the factor of age; there is a spread of eighteen years between the oldest, Bil, & the youngest, Ben. I suppose I was more of a parent figure to the younger ones, as I am 5, 8, & 14 years older; I spent a lot of time babysitting them, having to be the one in charge. Then I moved away to live with my Dad, so I became another distant relative. Visits back to California were few & far between; from 1979 to 1988, I only came to visit 4 times. Even after I moved back, I was married with children of my own, & they were teenagers & young adults- we just didn’t relate to one another.
As for my Dad’s other daughter, Crystal, I never was around her- Dad was divorced from her mom & would go down to visit her instead of bringing her to stay with us. I was just a voice on the phone or a face in a photograph. The last time I saw her was at her wedding 10 years ago; I wasn’t really invited, but felt I needed to be there, so I drove to Las Vegas, with my children in tow. Since then, I’ve spoken to her once on the phone & emailed her a couple of times, but she hasn’t ever gotten around to replying. I suppose, like me, she is glad to hear from me, but then gets involved in the minutia of her own life & forgets about contacting me. I understand it, but it doesn’t make it any easier.
Despite the fact that I’m a 43-year-old woman, with grown children, a successful marriage, & a full meaningful life, inside I’m still that serious, insecure little girl with the tender heart, who was always trying to belong. Since I couldn’t have that close, loving family I craved as a child, I made my own & have insolated myself in it from being hurt. Why is it I have to be the one to make all the efforts? There is that part of me that says, unconsciously, that if they won’t make the first move, then why should I? (I never said it was the reasonable part of me!) But then I have to face the fact that this is my need, not necessarily the needs of the others; if I want to connect, I have to reach out & accept the possibility of being ignored again. My mind knows that it is not a great risk, but that doesn’t quiet that fearful little voice inside. But I do have the comfort of knowing I have my own family to shelter & love me, where I am important & needed.
So, here I am, ready to venture forth again. That is what this trip is about; I’m feeling like I’m running out of time to heal these breeches, so I’m dragging my husband & son across country, to spend Christmas with virtual strangers. Thank God, they love me & think I know what I’m doing. If nothing else, it will be an adventure in a new part of the country for us. But deep down, I’m praying that it’s not too late to be a real sister to my brother & sister; that they want the same thing as I do- to be a family. My brother’s call today really gave me hope- he sounds so excited about our visit & is planning several things for us to do together. He said they are all planning on meeting us at the train station, even our Dad, who will be arriving the day before we do. I’m getting weepy just thinking about spending Christmas Eve with my family, meeting my nephew for the first time, getting to know my brother-in-law & maybe his daughter as well. Therefore, dear friends, please hold us up in prayer, for traveling mercies, decent weather, calmed fears, & open hearts.