After a month off from writing due to a family vacation, my not feeling well, and a stressful crunch time at work, I am finally able to finish the post I started on vacation during a family reunion. In fairness, much of this was composed before the trip in my mind as I justified why I was taking time off from work at a crunch time in our production schedule. In the end, it all came down to needing my kids to feel like a part of the larger family and to know family acceptance from more than just our nuclear family. I frequently read how adopted children have a harder time feeling acceptance, and I know from experience how easy it is to feel like you spend time on the outside due to medical conditions. To the extent I can help it, I want my kids to know acceptance and feel a part of our family, all of it.
At some point in our childhood, we all begin to get a sense of who we are. We get this from a multitude of places. Some are good and reliable, while others are as fickle as a teenaged whispered joke poking at our sensitive spots. As parents, one of the first things we try to give our kids is love and attention, to give them the strength to overcome some of life’s trials. We teach them they are worth our time and affection, and if both parents and kids are lucky, they come to believe it. They gain a sense of belonging needed by all of us, and family becomes one of our first identities.
It is toward this end that I have a running gag with my kids. I ask them, “Guess what?” and the answer is always either “I love you” or “I still love you” depending on whether I have just asked them to “Guess what” or “Guess what else.” Of course, every time they ask me to “Guess what” I always say “You love me?” Since kids say that all the time to me, they often mean what’s on their mind which is not our running gag. A sometimes says, “No I’m talking about X” which leads me to “You don’t love me…” and a dejected face which lead to her comforting me before I directed us back to the reason for her talking to me. O caught on fast, and he now says, “Yes, I love you, and I just saw X.” The point of the gag which has been running for years now, is to in-bed within their mind the assumption of loving bonds defining our relationships.
Still, knowing their relationship with our nuclear family well is kind of like knowing how their piece of the puzzle fits with the pieces around it. But how does that set of pieces fit within the larger puzzle of humanity? We are but one small block of pieces within the society they will experience. So how does our nuclear family fit in within bigger groups. Our family knows how we interact with friends because they see it every day, but is our family bigger than the five of us? OK, they know their grand parents, but are there more? Are we a part of a bigger set of pieces across the puzzle?
The knowledge of a family bigger than those people seen on a regular basis was the greatest gift of the family reunion held last month and every 5 years prior. Our kids got to meet and interact with cousins from the other side of the United States and across the Atlantic Ocean. Watching them learn how others think and play was absolutely amazing. Letting them see others with completely different problems allowed them to put their issues in a new perspective. On the trip and since, A has had a completely different view of her eating restrictions because she knows she can eat more than her aunt who is diabetic. Suddenly our problems are just problems like everyone has, even if they are different.
Then seeing some of their nieces get their hair done like they do was comforting too. Suddenly there were cool older family members asking to have their hair braided with all the discomfort they know too well. Seeing something you do all the time imitated, even if it is something you are forced into doing, is a powerful bond. I don’t know that A recognized it as such, but there is a certain equality in a relationship where all sides try to imitate things they like about each other. With A frequently going her own way due to difficulty keeping up in speed of imagination or physical activity, having shared experience helps.
Of course, our kids are still kids, so these insights come in fits and starts, but it is a step in the direction of maturity.
Thank you A & L. Your gift helped us all go and enjoy time together. Your help made the trip possible for us.