Having just spent the holidays seeing lots of friends, my mother-in-law, and having my cousin and his girlfriend to visit, it reminded me of what the holidays were like growing up in a big family with tons of grandparents, aunts and great-grandparents. Living in a city with one family member outside of our little family of five, it struck some cords that I have been wanting to write about.
Growing up, my family had a little jewelry store, connected to my grandparents’ home. There were my grandparents, their employee, a once-per-week-housekeeper, at least two or three people in the store at a time, two dogs, a parrot, sometimes a sibling or two, and me. There were neighbors who stopped by just to chat. A grandma and great-grandma within walking distance, where I was always welcome. A little forgotten and overgrown park I could walk to, and friends just down the street.
There was space to do my own thing, but always people within reach.
My Aunt Anne had no children and was elderly. But when I went to see her, I played in her understairs nook that was filled with dolls and magic and she’d treat me to popsicles. I watched her wash her hair in the sink in her detached garage and saw how she, a true lady, took pride in herself.
From my great grandma, Grandma Rown, I learned how to pick blackberries for pie and entertain myself for hours on a tree swing while she tended to her home.
From my other grandfather’s girlfriend, I learned how to make English Muffin pizzas and fell in love with The Princess Bride. That was probably my first sleepover.
Now that I’m the mama, who finds myself alone with my young children in a big house and little help, I sometimes wonder…where the fudge is my village? I grew up in a family of three kids, then five when my mom remarried. One of us was always off somewhere, or there were a ton of kids over at our house. But it’s not like that for me where we live in Los Angeles.
We know our neighbors on either side, but basically, our block of mostly older people keep to themselves. So much so, we were surprised at how few neighbors came to check on us a couple of years ago when an ambulance and two firetrucks came to our house after our little boy had a febrile seizure.
Maybe what I’m trying to replace is irreplaceable. A bygone era where the aunts couldn’t wait to see the little kids of the family. Where grandmas couldn’t wait to pick up the kids from school and ask about the student council and take them to gymnastics practice. It felt organic.
Now it’s all playdates and schedules and booking babysitters and then, oh yeah, you have an infant and your husband has to go to China and your only other family member in your city is on vacation at the same time. Logistically speaking, that was not easy. Emotionally speaking, it made me feel empowered and strong…but a little sad for the extended family I wish we had.
I have my own little tribe, and while any mother who spends a good deal of time with their children knows, when you are all alone, with little ones, it can sometimes be a little lonely. Even with the business that is: one child needing help to potty at the same time the doorbell rings, at the same time the dog has puked, at the same time the baby is climbing the staircase, precisely at the very moment when the pot on the stove boils over (butter pasta, my specialty). It can be busy and full and sometimes a little lonely all at the same time.
It’s hard to not feel bad when other mothers ask me how I do it when they see me with the baby on my hip and two other little ones close behind. I can do it, pretty easily, but it doesn’t mean I don’t long for a non-paid person who can’t wait to come steal the baby and play with the kids. Goodness, at this point, I’d just settle for a housekeeper who doesn’t steal my damn pants or quit without notice and go work for my friend.
I think about the women in my family, many of whom are gone now. The strong, solid (secretly smoking, and rumor has it, sometimes secretly tobacco chewing) women of my family. While they didn’t go it alone in their day-to-day, because they always had people around them, they could have.
And I know they’d be proud of me.
Does anyone have a great neighborhood in mind with homes with big magical yards, lots of young families, engaged neighbors, block parties and all within driving distance to my kids’ school? <3