Moving toward Solstice, walking through Advent awaiting the return of the light, finally finding a few moments to sit in the drawing dark in silence and reflect - my mind turns to memories. I wonder why I remember the things I remember from my childhood. Most of the memories flit through the corners of my mind like fireflies, bright but hard to catch and hold on to. Some specific moments stand out, etched forever because of the intensity of emotion surrounding them, but most meld and blend into a kaleidoscope of brightly lit bits and pieces of time, forming ever changing pictures of the landscape of my growing up years. Last night, I sat with extended family I had not seen in quite some time and the memories came flooding back. Memories of other holidays spent with family and other memories too. Bits and pieces of family form the overwhelming majority of the shards that color these kaleidoscope pictures from those years far in the past. But the more recent past holds less of those bits. We've moved away and moved apart from that close-knit extended family I knew as a kid.
And I wonder what memories my children will see when they stand at mid-life and look backwards. They will not have the same memories formed through years of repetition of extended family gatherings. Our patterns and plans change and shift from year to year. Growing up, I knew where we were going to be on Christmas Eve morning, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day morning, Christmas Day lunch, and Christmas Day Evening without fail. My childrens' experience varies from year to year. And regardless of the choices we make, they do not have the regular, repetitive contact with extended family that formed the foundation of my own experience.
We hold loosely to a few of our own traditions, but we key on loosely. We flex and bend to accomodate schedules and distance and blended families. We include close friends that take the place of some of that extended family and less intimate friends who find themselves adrift away from their own family connections. We include reaching out to help a family or two with less means than we have. We incorporate some rituals from our religious tradition that point us toward the light. And sometimes, we just sit still and rejoice in a few hours with no demands of schedule and try to remember to just breathe. Most of the time my children seem content with this life we have crafted. But every once in a while, they bemoan the lack of extended family. And I wonder, should I work harder? Should we sacrifice events and activities we enjoy and make ourselves more available? Should we work long hours of travel into the short breaks we have? And even if we did, would anyone else?
I cannot recreate for them the world I lived in, with six of eight great grandparents, all four grandparents, six first cousins within five years in age, a host of great-aunts and uncles, and second cousins too numerous to count within walking distance or at least within an easy drive. My husband's family is more spread out in age, with less kids in close proximity. My family is scattered in distance. The great-grandparents that served as the centerpoint for much of the family time are much older or have passed on before my children knew them. In a project I did for school, I counted over 60 family members that lived in close proximity to me when I was growing up. In a town of about 1300, that family made up a significant percentage of my world. That percentage for my children is barely measurable, both because of the lack of close family and the much more vast scope of the world they live in. And it's not as if these gatherings go on without us and we choose not to participate. The changing dynamics have changed the gatherings. So although I sometimes feel compelled to recreate that world, I know I cannot.
But still, I wonder, what will they remember? What will be the things that stand out and sparkle for them or that warm their hearts when they look back? Which things will they remember with sadness and poignancy? I cannot pretend to know. I spend a great deal of time and energy with events and activities to keep them engaged. But maybe what they will most remember is the four of us snuggled up on the couch sharing popcorn in the empty spaces between events, sleeping late and lounging in pajamas the Monday after school lets out, the vacations to places far and new instead of the repeated gathering of family, the time spent with friends. And while I know for sure their memories will be much different than the things I remember, I hope we are making memories that will glow in their own kaleidoscopes some day in the not so very distant future.