If you love your family, set them free

My parents are coming to visit us. They arrive tonight and are staying through Monday.

I’ve petitioned a couple bloggers to be adopted by their families, but unfortunately, they already have family members named Julie. Even my two oldest and dearest friends, whose families I love, have older sisters named Julie/Julia. Looks like there’s no room for me.

The dynamics of my family have always been different from most. While my father’s younger sister and her family stayed very near my paternal grandparents – establishing a sort of Kennedy family compound in east-central Ohio – my father left the farm, first to go to Ohio State and then to go to the Air Force Academy and on to duty stations all over the world before returning to Ohio.

Likewise, while my parents settled our family in a suburb adjacent to the one where my mother grew up (and where my maternal grandparents still lived), my mother’s sisters and brother spread out far and wide. Then, as my parents emptied their nest and moved to Northern Virginia, my aunts and uncle returned to the local area and settled in to help care for my grandparents. There was some overlap in all the coming and going, but the give-and-take seemed quite equitable.

After college, I was assigned to the Pentagon. I lived about ten miles from my parents, and we saw each other every few weeks on average. Sometimes more often, sometimes less often. My mother would come to my apartment, and we would lunch and shop at Pentagon City. Or I would go to their house for dinner, and we would get take-out Chinese. Or we’d meet up for brunch at Dupont Circle.

When I left the Air Force and moved to Dover to be with Kyle, I saw my parents rarely. I’m actually not sure how long we went without seeing each other. I was working up in New Jersey during the week, and on weekends I stayed close to home with Kyle. I know my parents never saw our house in Dover – which I regret only because we did a fantastic job finishing the basement.

When we moved to New York, they did not come to visit us until Tacy was born. My father spent the night once at the tail-end of a business trip – he’d been out on Long Island and had arranged to take the train home which made the jaunt into the city logical. Again, their absence did not offend me; it’s not easy to host guests in a one bedroom Upper East Side apartment.

We made several trips to Northern Virginia, which we enjoyed because several of our friends who’d also left the military had settled in the area. Each visit was a mini-reunion and well worth the trip.

Likewise, while we were in Northern Virginia and Dover and New York, we made trips to Ohio as often as possible. None of my family there was in a good position to travel much, although my aunt and cousin did visit us in New York the week before Tacy was born.

Leaving the east coast for Colorado was a difficult decision in that travel is now complicated in multiple ways. Not only must we scrounge for funds to get four people on a plane (which is incredibly taxing in itself, money aside), but Kyle must take time off work. If Kyle doesn’t work, he misses opportunities to make money. It’s a non-quantifiable cost. Plus, traveling fouls up children’s schedules like nothing else does, which adds to the stress of what should be a relaxing and fun time.

My mother no longer works, but my father is still firmly ensconced in his position, and he feels a great deal of responsibility to his firm and their clients. He is most definitely a subject matter expert, and while he has begun searching for someone to replace him, the next step will be to impart his years of knowledge. Given the decades he’s spent compiling that knowledge in less-than-ideal job situations, I’m happy that he is happy, and I don’t begrudge him his dedication to his job.

I don’t talk to my parents often – maybe once every few weeks, sometimes more and sometimes less – but I love them dearly, and nothing and no one can diminish their importance to me. They have encouraged me to take the paths best suited for my family and me, and for that guilt-free freedom, I am most grateful. Because of it, I’m free to truly enjoy my parents, and I don’t ever take them for granted.

So I’m rescinding those adoption requests. Other people’s families do sound like a lot of fun, but mine fits me best. They’ve set me free, and yet we’re still here for each other. Anytime.

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