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The Next Generation of Family

The Next Generation of Family

    My daughter has a scattered family. It’s inherited. My family stretched along the West Coast. Mom and her side of the family were mostly in California, and my dad and all his relatives were in Oregon. Time was split between them, with summers typically being “dad time” and the rest belonging to my mom and young grandparents.

   My daughter’s family isn’t just divided into halves--it’s little clusters all over the country. The fact isn't new to me; I remember piling all my antiques and books and cat into a Budget truck and moving to Nashville—but it hadn't hit me how it would alter her childhood experience. Not until Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library delivered a Llama Llama book, where the title character goes to visit his grandparents for the night, did it register. Tears welled in my eyes while reading. Tallulah, oblivious, happily thumbed the thin pages forward.

   What had I done? Sure, she couldn't be near EVERY family member, but to be so far from all of them! To have her time reduced to short visits, to not know what it was like to rummage through grandparents’ cupboards to find all the snacks, or to riffle through their old photo albums to see photographs of her parents as babies? Grandparent memories are some of my favorites from childhood. Talking about Robert Redford with my Grandma Sue and hearing her childhood stories, how her face “looked like an Irish map” and how Santa only brought oranges for Christmas. Grandpa George telling me about his trip to Russia and locating Moscow’s McDonald. Listening to him describe all the treasures he found while working on the Roth family tree.

  And those young grandparents, my mom’s parents? They filled the majority of my grandparent time, and my memory is saturated with our moments—blueberry pies, Stephen King movies, cruises, Disney, and trips to Crown Book Store. There was always at least one grandparent at arm’s length.

  Tallulah’s grandparent memories won’t be an every weekend experience—but does that make them less poignant? Memories don’t always carry weight when they’re routine or constant. Her grandparent experience, even if it’s only blocks of time every several months, is special. My grandparents, her great-grandparents, were here in April. They formed a stronger bond than previous visits (maybe because she isn’t just a blob of newborn anymore), and Tallulah collected memory fodder: playing with blocks at the Frist museum, seeing her great-grandparents step outside their comfort zone at Nashville’s first VegFest, and having the fun of picking out dresses and shoes with Grandma.

   And it isn't all bad. We may not have the frequent mom breaks through grandparent sleepovers, or the instant recognition when a family member walks through the door. We have something different, like each generation does.

   As Tallulah’s mom, I have to cultivate that grandparent time in new ways. We have to use technology to build long-distant love through FaceTime. We have to make those visits count. We have to keep the family updated through photographs and special gifts. We have to celebrate the precious moments of family. They make childhood special.

Music: A Family Tradition

Music: A Family Tradition

Music is ubiquitous in my house.

It’s a tradition.

My mom layered our walls with Poison posters when I was five; we had cats named after members of Hanoi Rocks and mice after Guns N’ Roses’ players. Later, she taught me about goth and punk rock. We first heard Radiohead’s “Creep” when she drove me to school.  My dad? He taught me to headbang to Iron Maiden, to respect Michael Schenker, and how to pantomime rock star moves while pretending to air jamming to Stone Temple Pilots’ “Vasoline.” He blasted Slayer while I played Barbies. Needless to say, music is ingrained into my most important memories.

Fast forward to myself as a parent. I believe music is a crucial parenting tool. It’s a much-needed distraction for kids (unless, of course, my daughter thinks she has to stare at the turntable/iPod/speaker for full experience); it’s a means to exercise (go ahead, pick up that heavy toddler and dance and see if you don’t get a little winded!) Music is innate. I saw that when my daughter bopped her head and shook her shoulders without any instruction or conditioning. She felt the music on her own. Now, she has an entire arsenal of moves. There's the fist bump to X and the Beastie Boys, the sway to Billie Holiday, the reaching to David Bowie, and a budding shadow dancing to accompany anything threaded with synthesizers—particularly ‘80s synth.

Today, while we cleaned up breakfast and swept up mounds of dog fur, Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” played from the iPod’s shuffle playlist. Tallulah transitioned from bouncy moves to a tranquil expression and subtle rocking. She was transfixed. Watching her movements, a memory ran inside my head. It was my great-grandmother’s funeral, in a small beige room with Patsy Cline playing on a little boom box. I sat with my grandparent’s—on hard and uncomfortable chairs—and we all listened. Someone whispered their own recollections, about how my great-grandparents would dance to Patsy in the living room—often with whiskey on my great-grandfather’s breath. He had died when I was about the same age as Tallulah. My only connection to him is a series of photos from our first meeting. I’m wearing a frilly red and white dress; his hair is mussed but he smiles in the way everyone does when they first meet a baby.

That photo allows him to be tangible. One day I’ll show this photo to Tallulah and pass on the stories I’ve heard about our Grandpa McGough, and tell her what I remember about my great-grandmother. She was the one who facilitated Thanksgivings—even into her 80s—and had perfectly set platinum hair. In her closet was a boxed Bingo game with translucent pink markers to cover the letters when they were called.

In the meantime, Tallulah will cultivate her own connection to family. Through Patsy. We’re listening to “Walking After Midnight” next.

Meaningful Moments

Meaningful Moments
The cake is made. Banners are hung. RSVP list in hand. Balloons are bunched. I cannot believe it's been a year already. It was just yesterday I held him for the first time. Now he sits on his own, eats solid food, walks on his own, and is developing favoritesThe time just flies so fast. This birthday party represents one more year of memories made. But, as I sit here and reminisce, its really not the big moments that make me well with gratitude.  
In fact, the memories I find myself sitting in for a while, are, in a way, small. While my boy may have learned to walk, say please and thank you, and eat with a fork, the moments that have actually meant the most were when we rocked every night before bed singing Twinkle Twinkle more times than I could count. Or our one-on-one dates to get a donut with sprinkles on it. I will never forget our talks about the importance of saying "I'm sorry." And I will forever want to thank him for acting as my mirror most every day.
Now, it's not that this birthday party isn't special. Or that the milestones and anticipated events are less significant. It's just that these aren't the moments that make up our life together as a family. The whispers in the ear, the book reading, the tickle fights, and crying together over daily disapointments are the things I hold closely and I hope he will look back and say these moments were his favorite too.  
While I am going to give this birthday party all I've got, (and can definitely guarantee a one year old with a sugar high) I really am looking forward to this next year with him. I anxiously await the treasures we will be given in each and every normal day.