Memorial Day got me thinking about my grandfathers, both of whom fought in World War II and other arenas, and both of whom passed away several years ago. Then today, I got a link to some photos my uncle had taken at a bridal shower for one of my youngest cousins. A feeling of nostalgia overwhelmed me, and I was filled with sadness that I wasn't able to be there. The pictures show a room chock full of my family members - exactly like the family gatherings I remember so well from my childhood. I haven't seen much of any of them, except for photos on FB, since my grandparents died. The images from today reminded me so much of those earlier get-togethers; except now, the members of my generation are the moms and dads with oodles of kiddies, and our folks are the grandmas and grandpas.
Munchkin is growing up in an environment far different from the one I knew. He is an only child with just five first cousins, none of whom live here. He has his Nana and Pop and Grammie and Grandpa, even his great-grandmother Mimi, all to himself. He has my three sisters and my husband's sister as aunts, but he only gets to see one of them on a regular basis.
My family, on the other hand, is huge, and I grew up with all of them. My father had five brothers and two sisters, and my mom has five brothers. Up until the time I was six, we lived within a few blocks of one set of grandparents, and just across town from the other. Almost all my aunts and uncles lived in the same town with me, and all that progeny produced 12 first cousins on my dad's side, and 10 first cousins on my mom's. And we saw each other all the time.
Even when we moved to DC, we still made a pilgrimage at least twice a year to see everyone, and weddings and baptisms were events not to be missed. My dad's parents eventually ended up in Florida, so we often went down there, as well. Ever since their passing, however, I've rarely seen my cousins. My mom's brothers and their families are scattered all over the country; we haven't seen each other in years. Of all of this family, only one aunt/uncle pair from each side was able to make it to my wedding, which was held at a remote destination; one cousin and one second cousin also came. I missed them all so much.
My 22 cousins now have a whopping 23 children, so we've effectively doubled the size of our clan. The thing that makes me homesick is that, on my dad's side, at least, they all still live near each other, and still get together on a regular basis - major holidays are massive reunions, and even regular weeknights can become a huge family outing. But we can never go. The town where they live isn't a major hub, and airfare is expensive. My hubby and I have been meaning to get out to visit since we got married, since so few people could attend, but with schedules and now the baby, we just never found the time.
The cousin for whom the bridal shower was being held is getting married this summer. Our tickets and hotel are already booked; I can't wait to see everyone, and introduce them to my husband and son in person. I'm going to relish every moment - every hug, every corny family song that we sing at every get-together, every smile on the face of every single uncle, aunt, cousin, and child. It's just a weekend, and I know it will be over too quickly; but with more of our family splintering off to different destinations, and my parents' generation growing older, who knows when we might get the chance to visit again?
Being from a large family has shaped and defined me, and I want to make sure that as he grows up, Munchkin has the opportunity to get to know these family members. I don't want him to feel isolated. The saying, "It takes a village to raise a child," keeps coming back to me - they are my village. We may have to use FB or Skype or email or text to stay connected, but I know that the family bond forged over years of dinners and skits and celebrations and cousin sleepovers is strong, and they have my back, no matter the miles between us.