My extended family starts, in a way, with my own children.
I have two kids, a 9-year-old son from a previous relationship who lives in Virginia and a 15-month-old daughter with my wife. I Amtrak once a month on a Friday evening to get my son and bring him back to New York for a weekend visit. When Sunday comes all too quickly, I start my second round trip of the weekend to take him home. It’s exhausting and makes me sad, though he acts like the exchange and trips are the most normal thing in the world. It’s jarring how nonchalant he can be about it and also how close his little sister has grown to him despite the distance.
My kids are great. Anyone who has been around little terrors hopes they don’t get kids like that. Parenting can be funny but mostly it’s a bear. For my parents, my two little brothers and I were merciless. So I’m pleasantly surprised that the only real hiccups I’ve had to address with my son are manners and diet. The jury is still out on the princess, but that is looking pretty good right now. She’s a real sweetheart like her brother.
The holidays highlight this little (maybe prematurely called) miracle when we visit my entire extended family in my hometown of Dallas, Texas. For the entire trek of getting my son to New York and getting the four of us to one airport and schlepping extra bags that kids somehow need and then, of course, the extra TSA screening that I take for the car seat because a swab of it came back with a false positive, we are only beginning our journey.
The plane ride can be challenging. It depends on whether my daughter sleeps through the ascent and descent, we retrieve our stuff easily, and meet my parents. Joy. I am glad to see them — most immediately because now I have some help carrying all this stuff and tracking down the kids. Why do little ones have such a wide berth when walking in a straight line anyway?
At Mom and Dad’s house, the visit officially begins with a big welcome from my extended family. My brothers are waiting for us, and I’m ready to introduce them to the niece they’ve never met. My favorite uncle is on the couch and happy to see us; we haven’t spoken since my last visit two years ago. As I’m saying hi and introducing my daughter to everyone and reacquainting my son with his uncles, I catch a glance of my parents, beaming. I feel a little twinge of guilt and sadness because I don’t talk to them nearly enough. My dad calls me when he can’t stand it anymore and my mom has bouts where she just gives up, choosing instead to stay in touch through my wife who is more diligent and responsive than I have ever been with family communication.
This twinge that I’m feeling has evolved over a few years now. When we all go to the Christmas Eve gathering at my aunt’s house where much of my extended family has convened, it hits a little deeper. My Mexican family is pretty large in every sense of the word. We like to eat, there’s a ton of us, and we are as loud as the day is long. When I was growing up, us kids would do everything we could to be heard above the din and be the one to make our parents and aunts and uncles laugh. We were all pretty close, depending on which aunts weren’t speaking to each other at the time. It was melodramatic and every frequent gathering blended our families together in a way a little different from the last one. When the small handful of cousins that have moved away return, we feel that spirit that rejoins us to the jolly whole and lately I’m disappointed to retreat from it when it’s time to leave. Maybe I’m just getting older.
I haven’t written about also being a full-time student at Columbia or how I’m building a new practice under careful watch from the CEO at my 30-year-old IT firm. These are often overwhelming enough when trying to keep up with my wife, and my kids. All of these hats and it’s easy to overlook how it all started. I was first a son, a brother, and a nephew. Soon, I’ll be an uncle for the first time. I don’t know how I’ll manage, but it’s clear that this lamenting is not enough. I lamented my dad’s parents passing in Mexico last year and the year before, it won’t be acceptable to lament my last remaining grandparent. My grandfather has met my children, and fortunately, my son knows him well. I asked him politely about his health and was a little surprised at his honesty, “Oh, you know, mijo, not too good. After my heart attack …” I’d forgotten that happened.
I have great memories of my grandfather, of all my grandparents really, and even better stories from my aunts and uncles about them. I’ve got plenty more memories and stories about those aunts and uncles and my dad’s, too. The way things are, it will all be lore one day. My kids, my wife, and I are transplanted spirits, but not far away enough to be helpless. And so, I’m not too disappointed with myself later, I will don these additional hats. After all, without them I wouldn’t have this great life with my great kids.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Joel Ramirez resides in the East Village with his better half, Jessica, and their daughter, Poppy Lea Charlotte. His, Aidan, lives with his mother, stepfather, and two little sisters in Virginia. He is a full-time IT consultant, full-time student, full- and part-time dad, and wanna-be writer. Other welcome distractions of his include racquetball and fútbol and football. You can follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/joeljet.