I suppose that I am a bit spoiled. When I was growing up I enjoyed a great big extended family. They were my lifesavers after my father died. It was never just me, my mother and my brothers surviving alone. There were grandparents, aunts, uncles and dozens of cousins who filled my life with support and joy. We constantly celebrated together on birthdays, at Christmas and even on summer weekends. We spent every Friday and Sunday with them. My social calendar was filled with so many events that I never felt alone. My relatives would stop by to check on us and even to bring us food when we were sick. It was a beautiful relationship that made me believe that I would never be alone.
As usually happens, things changed over the years. The family grew to a point that made it difficult for everyone to continue meeting together as they once did. My grandparents died and my aunts and uncles began to follow them to the great beyond. It became more likely that my family would gather most often for funerals than parties. Still, I continued to enjoy lots of fun times with my brothers and their wives and children. We almost religiously celebrated all of the birthdays together and special occasions like Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, the Fourth of July, baptisms, first communions, graduations, weddings. I always knew that I would be surrounded by loving people multiple times each year with special dinners and meet ups in between.
Then came Covid and it all fell apart. The annual dinner to celebrate my mother’s heavenly birthday was not even mentioned this year. Not a single person has enjoyed a raucous great big family birthday party for almost three years now. We did manage to get together for a graduation and a baby shower but mostly the glue that kept us together has dried out and cracked just as it has with friends as well. It is as though we all became accustomed to being alone and we don’t quite know how to restart the gatherings once again. Maybe some have even realized that they don’t really want to do so anymore.
I know that few families have enjoyed the rock solid commerarderie that has defined my life and that I took for granted. We certainly still love each other, but we have become busy and we are moving in many different directions. Perhaps it was always inevitable that our unwavering dependence on each other might one day have to change. Even if we succeeded in getting every single person in the family to attend some event, we would practically have to rent a hall to accommodate them. Still, I do miss the way we never forgot the birthdays even if we were far away or sick.
There are lots of discussions about what constitutes a healthy family. I don’t think a really good family has much to do with its make up or how often it gets together, but rather how often the members check to see how everyone is doing. When I was a child I never once doubted that someone would always care for me and my brothers. Even when a schoolmate suggested that I would have to go to an orphanage if my mother also died I was able to assert without reservation that my aunts and uncles would take care of me. I had every confidence that I was never alone. That knowledge kept me strong. Those constant interactions with my big crazy family helped me more than anyone might measure. I worry that young people today, even in my own family, do not have nearly enough of that sort of reassurance.
I’m not a party girl by nature. Nonetheless I see invitations to parties or parties held in my honor as a kind of confirmation that somebody really cares. It takes a person acting as glue to get those things started and I think that most of us are just out of practice and some are even still a bit worried about Covid. I know that I used to be the supreme hostess but I haven’t scheduled anything since 2019. Perhaps it’s time for me to attempt to glue things back together, rather than simply lamenting that nothing is happening.
I like that one of my neighbors constantly brings our cul de sac together with little gatherings on his driveway or in his backyard. We all think of him as the force that pulls us out of our homes and into relationships that go beyond waving as we drive off to work. I need to take a page from him and do better. I’ve let my introverted tendencies get a bit too comfortable of late. It’s long past time to bring the family back to life. I have to step up and be the glue.