Friday, June 04, 2010

Family Makes the World Go Round

My nephew Xavier has been to Cape Cod four times. That’s quite a lot of trips for a person raised in France. I’m amazed by the number of memories he retains from each visit, like having stopped, with Sven, at the Bookstore for clam chowder and beer after a swim at Duck Harbor, or jogging to Dyer Pond with my daughter Natalie, or exploring the Atlantic White Cedar Swamp. This year Xavier brought his fiancé, a lovely Polish woman who also works at the European Union. Last night they enjoyed lobster at Moby Dick’s. Today we went to Dyer Pond together. His memory of the walk will certainly be of the mosquitoes that dive-bombed us right before reaching the power lines. The attack was so ferocious that we had to return via Long Pond.

It has been fun to observe two young people in love, walking hand in hand, with eyes only for each other. Lots of couples walk hand in hand in Provincetown. Not so much here in Wellfleet, even in summer.

I also feel especially grateful to Xavier for his loyalty. You see, not only is he my ex-husband’s nephew, but he’s a much younger generation and yet carves out time in his busy schedule to connect in person, even though I live on the other side of the ocean. Family is very important in France. I’m fortunate Xavier still considers me family. Too often divorce means losing touch with an ex’s friends and relations.

And, family matters. Sometimes, in America, adult children get overwhelmed with their own lives and forget. Now that everyone uses IM and email, months go by when I don’t hear the voices of my own kids over the phone, let alone see them in person. Sven resolves this conundrum by calling his sons every week. They may be miles away, but he does not let distance get in his way. I’m less inclined to impose myself and the result is isolation and bafflement, described so well by author Elizabeth Strout in her book Olive Kitteridge. (I write about feeling like Olive in "Olive Kitteridge and Elders," a guest post that Ronni Bennett published today at her Elder Storytelling Place.)

What about Web cam and Skype? Call me old-fashioned but chatting this way is an unsatisfactory alternative. You don’t experience a person’s smell. You cannot reach out and touch a shoulder or rub an arm at something a person said. You're not there when a family member is open to "quality" time or has a crisis. Real connection is not possible.

In this modern world, generations tend to stick together. Sven was shocked a few years ago to be told he was not welcome at his son’s house for a celebration of Midsommar: the party was only for thirty-somethings. He picked up the pieces of his broken heart and decided to go elsewhere for Midsommar in the future, spending the time with Swedish friends his age instead.

My parents bought this old Cape Codder in order to have an attractive place where I would want to bring their grandchildren and they would get to see – me! It worked. I came every summer for some twenty years. We ate at the same table. We got angry at each other, then embraced and made up. We shared trials and tribulations. In other words, we experienced life together. My parents became a part of my kids' lives.

Are you aware of how important family is? Do you tend to stick with your own generation or include parents if they happen to be around? Do you make a point of seeing family outside of holidays like Christmas and Thanksgiving? Are you able to connect with family members through the Internet or do you feel frustrated by modern methods of communication?