BRISTOW BEAT: Keeping Family Ties Across Distances

| November 2, 2014 | 0 Comments | Busy in Bristow

busyinbristow-1Are you FROM Northern Virginia? I’m not. I’d say about one in five families I meet are natives while the rest of us are misplaced Midwesterners or Yankees from the days of yore.

What does this mean for everyday family life? An awful lot of us are going it alone — relying on the bonds we build with friends and the goodness of our neighbors — for those times when we need an extra pair of hands. In just the past month, I’ve been reminded of that first-hand. Husband had back surgery and as a result, an unplanned stay in the hospital. After recovering, he went on the one trip that he takes each year with the fellas which just happens to coincide with Halloween, one of the kids’ favorite holidays second only to Christmas.

The kids and I have developed a tradition of visiting our surrogate family an hour south of here and doing Halloween country style: truck or treating, hayrides, a community party complete with costume contests, and more importantly TWO extra pairs of hands … a friend of mine who adopted me as her daughter when I lost my folks and she, due to a tragic accident, lost one of her two children.

Because she doesn’t have grandchildren, and my kids are lacking grandparents on my side of the family, we worked out a deal. Our kids get the benefit of having more people to love them, and I get the help I need unless I want to big time burn out.

All of this makes me wonder about the way things used to be.

Grandma and Grandpa living in the same house as Mom, Dad, and the kids with a couple of chickens thrown in. A lopsided addition built on to the house for Grandpa after Grandma passed … a bathroom outfitted with handrails next to toilet and nearby, a sit down shower.

These days, we’re fiercely independent — the entire lot of us including the grandparents in most families who don’t want to be a burden to their children. Like a lot of parents, Husband and I waited until we had our Master’s degrees and established careers before we had children, which means our own parents were older by the time their grandchildren came along. Many of us nowadays find ourselves “sandwiched” in between the needs of our still-young kids and our aging parents. Sadly, however, a lot of those parents are still back in our native states, hundreds of miles away where we’re unable to check in on them on a daily basis.

When my Dad died, his sister — my aunt — and I became even closer than we had been. Now she’s been moved into “an institution” as she calls it, and having just visited her there last weekend, I know she’s unhappy. I think about moving her in with us: what it would take both physically and emotionally to take care of her needs while still driving the Kid Taxi around to the four corners of the county, working as a teacher and leading my daughter’s Girl Scout troop.

I also think about my surrogate family with whom I visit today and their 92 year old mother who has dementia and calls them in the middle of the night but forgets why. A year ago, they moved her from Maryland into a house ten minutes from theirs, but now it’s clear to the that she needs around-the-clock care if they don’t want her to waste away from not eating or to wander away which, they fear, she will eventually do.

I don’t have the answer, but I do know that my heart tells me it’s unnatural to divide ourselves up across the country the way many of us, including our family, have, so caught up are we in making financially prudent decisions that help us advance in our careers.

After college, it never occurred to me to go back home because there were no jobs. Now, in mid-life, I wonder what my life would have been like if I’d put down my own roots where my family had raised me. I always figured that when Husband and I retired, we’d move to some wonderful place we’d always dreamed of but that hadn’t been able to offer us a good dental plan. Now, I think we’ll probably live as close as we can to whichever one of our children will have us. I can’t think of any place I’d rather be than with our kids and — if they have children of their own — with our future grandkids.

I hope that when it’s my turn, I can help the younger generation the way Husband’s parents have helped us when they’ve come to town or we’ve gone back to the Midwest where they still live. And if I can be someone’s surrogate the way my friends have stepped up to help me?

I’m not sure what I’m waiting for.

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