Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Love of Family

So far I have written about love of place and love of music as part of a run-up to Valentine's Day. I noticed various splashes of red-white-and-pink in Montreal, where I spent the weekend, and they reminded me to keep the theme going.

The romance of place and the romance of music are less problematic than the romance of family. We can see our favourite places and hear our favourite music through a rosy haze and nothing brings us down to earth with a bump. But families, which involve assortments of personalities, rather resist the rosy glow. Although various members may not be rooted in reality, family is pretty darn real.

My parents had five children who are now grown up, and as we have no uncles and aunts living, family life revolves around us and our own children, of whom we now have three. The contrast between the lives of the children is almost amusing. In Montreal, Peanut and Popcorn ran their scientist/tech parents ragged all weekend, whereas in Toronto on Monday evening Pirate merely said he didn't want to eat his dessert right away when he was metaphorically sat upon by grandparents, uncles and aunts.  

I hope you are struck by my use of the third person plural, my assertion that my parents' children have our own children and that we have three. Although families are composed of individuals, they are more than the sum of individuals, and there are certainly roles other than Parent, Grandparent, Child and Grandchild. There are, for example, Sister and Aunt, Brother and Uncle. There is even, in some households, Nanny. Families are not just I + I +I but WE, and this idea of WE is romantic enough to fuel an industry for the people who sell "family tartans." But although "We, Clan McAmbrose" is actually a polite fiction, "We, Our Family" is neither polite nor fictional. It just is for richer, for poorer, for better, for worse.

Living so far from my family as I have for almost four years, being in Canada among them is a great treat. I very much enjoy family dinner--there has been family dinner almost every evening for over 39 years--but what I like even more is everyone doing their own thing under the same roof. One of my favourite memories from Family Christmas in the Historical House was seeing everyone sitting around the living room, wrapped in blankets or cardigans, reading books or laptop screens. To me reading a book as others chat or read is peace and bliss.

And of course I also like to watch the antics of my nephews and niece and hear the stories of their adventures and bon-mots. The battle of wills between my niece and her parents over her violin practice may have been hard work for them, but it was fun for me, and we were all rewarded by Popcorn finally scraping her way through "Twinkle, Twinkle." Popcorn is two years old.

B.A. and I were rather dazed by how much work parenting (as opposed to mere uncle-ing and aunting) is. Like farmers, our brother and sister-in-law seem to work from dawn to dusk. When they are not at the office, they are shovelling one child into or out of snow pants while restraining the other from destroying the sitting-room. On Sunday mornings, my brother is a church organist, and I was quickly pressed into service in the choir loft to make sure neither nephew nor niece tumbled out of it.

One of the aspects of my life as an aunt is that I had no aunts myself, so I am making up the role as I go along. Measured by hugs, I think I am doing a pretty good job so far.  Meanwhile, I hope Popcorn forgot all about me after her valedictory hug at her pre-school classroom door yesterday morning. Last year  after enthusiastically waving as my train left the station, she waited for my train to come back, and burst into tears when it didn't.


Domestic Diva said...

Much as I long for my own children, I absolutely love being an aunt. A female spiritual director encouraged me a few years ago, when I was really grieving my singleness & childlessness, to delight in my nieces & nephews. "It doesn't take a lot of work to be a good aunt," she said. And I've found her to be right. My siblings have large families, so all of the children clamor for attention, affection, and affirmation. The slightest thing I do for them...gift, phone call, hug, trip to their favorite fast food restaurant, baking, bouncing the basketball...makes me their heroine. As the oldest ones approach that perilous time of adolescence, I hope that the relational ties I've established let them know they can come to me if for some reason they don't want to go to their parents, and I hope to inspire them to live a good Christian life.

Seraphic said...

Interestingly, being around my nephews and niece takes the edge off childlessness. I think, "Well, these are the children we have!" I also think, "Gosh! How very exhausted my brother looks!" And "Maybe our vocations are to be Married Childless Exotic Scottish Uncle and Aunt!"

SCG said...

I'm not an aunt yet, as only one of my brothers is married and his wedding was just in December, but I do have another brother (there are 5 of us and I am the eldest and only girl) who is 17 years younger than I, so it's like having a nephew in some ways. And, because I live out of state, I get to swoop in every six weeks or so, play fairy godmother and spoil him ridiculously over a weekend, then swoop back to my state when the weekend is over. It does help with the loneliness of Singlehood to have a little boy whose favorite thing to do is call me via Skype or Facetime so that he can show me "things"

MaryJane said...

I spent several months with friends who have several small children, and I too found that it took the edge off of singleness. In fact, I was so tired most days that I didn't even have the time or energy to think about it!