Generations

Our family is headed to Florida in a couple of weeks to spend the holidays with the grandparents. Florida is that state where all New Yorkers (in this case northern New Jersey-ites) are required by law to go when they retire. This is non-negotiable.

When I say family, I mean all of us. Older Son with live-in girlfriend, Younger Son, Daughter, both sisters-in-law, niece and nephew, Husband and me. Plus various cousins and aunts and uncles who will join us for the milestone event of Aunt Ruth’s 90th birthday party. Planning for this has been epic, filled with the usual family drama over a year’s time.

I will admit to suffering from a touch of bad attitude-itis about this trip. Peak airfares, non-existent rental cars, complicated travel arrangements, juggled academic schedules, not to mention our recent home move (recent like last week), a sea of yet-to-be-unpacked boxes, and  difficulty finding available doggie care during Christmas week have made me cranky. It’s hard to look forward to the hard-of-hearing, TV cranked up to impossible volumes, bickering over bathroom privileges and what to eat for dinner, inevitable criticism of hairstyles and clothing choices, and intrusive questions about anything and everything.

What is it about older people asking rude questions, anyway? Is there a virus that attacks at a certain age, after which you can say anything you want, good manners be damned? I don’t get it.

So here I am, feeling burdened and just a wee bit resentful, until I overhear Older Son and Daughter discussing the trip —

Daughter: I’m excited for Florida … it’s going to be amazing.

Older: Yeah, Pop-pop’s really great. It’ll be chill to hang out with him there. Even Grammy’s so much more fun on her home turf.

Daughter: We’ll all be together and we’ll get to see Rachel and the baby [cousin Rachel, who had the first baby of the next generation via artificial insemination with her wife] … I can’t wait to watch the relatives’ reaction.

Older: Picture the play-by-play. Who’s going to write that short story? Where’s Woody Allen when we need him [ain’t it the truth!!]?

Daughter: It’ll be so nice to be with everyone. That’s tradition, ya know?

Older: Can’t believe Ruthie’s 90 years old. How amazing is THAT?

Daughter: I just LOVE Ruthie.

WHAT?! Who’s kids are these? Not mine, certainly. They’re undoubtedly aliens who have landed in my home.

My kids complain loudly whenever they’re taken out of their immediate environment and away from their friends (unless it’s for a mega-high priced international adventure). My kids whine when asked to attend family occasions that don’t fit into their plans. My kids run the other way as fast as they can when the phone rings and they see the grandparents’ number on the caller ID.

I don’t know how to explain this transformation. Perhaps all these years spent shuttling from coast to coast to be with family have finally taken root? Maybe scores of school vacations consumed by reunions full of uncomfortable meals and conversations have had delayed impact? Could it be they’ve reached an age where blood really is thicker than water?

I look away, embarrassed by my selfish whining (even if it was largely silent). This is exactly what we’d always hoped for. A deep sense of family connection that’s bigger than individual personalities or dramas or trivial likes and dislikes. It’s about building the foundation of where we come from and that of the future generations yet to be born. It’s about creating meaning and the kind of unconditional love you only get with those who share a shred of your DNA.

Somehow that has managed to happen in spite of the complaints. It has passed from our grandparents to our parents, and through us to our children. The way that makes me feel makes all the petty inconvenience and stress of  the journey worth it.

Who cares if we have to scream to be heard? Who cares if the older folk don’t really get it all the time?  Who cares if they occasionally criticize hairstyles and  clothes? They are the ones who understand our shared history.

The crankiness fades away. Totally.

I won’t even complain about packing up all the holiday gifts and trimmings to be shipped ahead. Sigh. I will revel in the generations of love and connection and gentle arguments that we can’t get anywhere else.

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Rachel Zahn, MD is a pediatrician turned health writer who had three kids during medical school and pediatric training—crazy, huh?


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