Saturday, December 13, 2008

Found Family


Most of us regard family as a mixed blessing. Some of us choose to stay close to the family we grew up with as we grow the next generation. Others make a different decision, to create a new life far away and control the duration and locale of extended family interactions. No matter which path we point ourselves down at the beginning of adulthood, one thing is almost certain: it will change.

My parents both fled their families for wider, more open social spaces. Both were the eldest of large numbers of brothers and sisters, both experienced poverty, and both wanted an education and a new life. Mom crossed the continent from one coast to another; Dad crossed hemispheres and a couple oceans, saying good-bye to the apartheid world he grew up in to make a new life in the fabled Land of Opportunity.

But, one result of these very reasonable decisions in my parents' life is that their next generation, me, was raised in a sort of extended family vacuum. The pros and cons of this can be debated for the rest of my days, but one benefit is undeniable: It has allowed/forced me to build my own extended family. I consider this journey one of my deepest lifelong pleasures and frankly greatest accomplishments.

My Life Family now consists of probably 4-6 friends and their families spread across the land. I am both proud and humbled that these relationships span from less than five years to over three decades. I find that as I get older, I understand the importance of having people in your contemporary world that carry the arc of your life in their psyche. It grounds you. It gives audience to red flags. It keeps you honest.

Today was Cookie Decorating Day. When this tradition started, I can't quite recall, but CDD is a simple pleasure Dylan and I await anxiously each December. Our roundtrip from door to door actually lasts longer than the event itself, but we don't care. We leave the house at 9AM, catch a ferry, and after a quick stop for coffee and hot chocolate, head north on the freeway to arrive at the warm and lovely home of the parents of one of my Life Family members around 11AM. Associate Life Family Members you could call them.

We all have our roles. Mamie and Linda have prepped the whole event by mixing the enormous quantities of cookie dough ahead of time and separating it into plastic-wrapped batches. Soup is simmering on the stove. The rolling station is usually in full swing by the time we arrive (not late 2 years in a row!). Robert rolls and cuts. I usually stand around and bla bla for awhile before a meaningful job presents itself since decorating is neither my forte nor my passion.

Evolution unfolds before us as the children's creations take on new complexities and their attention span lengthens each year. Talents are discovered or abandoned. New faces join. Every year is different; every year is the same. We start out full of chatter and ambition; we finish by making the largest cookies possible, accompanied by quiet musings and the final determination that every batch needs at least one tray of plains.

Whatever path you choose, it will change, revealing unexpected joys and surprise yearnings. My father ended up in the bosom of the very close-knit family of his second wife and revels in the ups and downs of family life. My mother now lives 40 feet from her daughter's family. My husband, also a family escapee, has come to enjoy his brothers and sisters in ways he could never have imagined when he boarded the plane leaving Melbourne.

And I have the joy of Cookie Decorating Day and some of the finest people around each holiday to remind me that we are all part of something larger and more wondrous than ourselves, if only we make a little space in our lives to let and keep others in.

Thanks to Mamie and Linda and the people they gather in their kitchen each December. Tradition is really the backbone of any family. See you next year.

1 comment:

Shea's Mom said...

Sweet. Very sweet. Yummy sweet.

Sounds fun.

XOX