Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Happy Families

I had lunch recently with a friend who confessed he was envious of my "big, happy family". But , I thought, we are so few. I have three adult children - two are married and of those two, my son and his wife are in Ethiopia along with the divine two-year old Ms. M.. Married daughter, husband and grandsons, eight and twelve, live a five-minute drive away and my single son (twenty-nine - good looking - anyone got an eligible daughter?) lives mid-town. I have no other family in this country. I've always considered my family very small.

I got to thinking after friend expanded on his statement - he commented on the obvious love I have for my children and the the ease with which we banter, tease, express our love openly; the solid front we present when faced with any kind of adversity. I do have a big family. A family big in connection - big in love - big in generosity to one another - big in appreciation of liking one another.

My boys have an older sister who will go to bat for them any day - who doesn't hesitate to supercede my role and give them her unsolicited opinion. In return they admire her as a strong woman, a funny woman, a woman, as one told me, 'who set the bar' for women in his life. The two intrepid souls who have married into this family are a match for the energy and exuberance. My daughter-in-law is one of the finest young women I know - her blog from Addis is on the front page this month of Connections.

We've co-opted other members into this family- friends who are automatically copied on e-mails, included in the large holiday gatherings. One such couple are my daughter-in-laws parents. They live in Tucson now - to the grandsons they are "Grandma Chris and Grandpa Jim" - family. They look after my dog; they never fail to turn up bearing baskets of goodies; we share pride in the two-year old's progress and antics. Another couple are older. I've known them since 1981 when I came first to Tucson. I love them for their outlook on life, their humor, their passion for each day. The fact that they both cook like angels is not the only reason they share holidays with us!

I come from a long-line of story tellers - my father would hold the room spellbound with his tales of growing up in Ireland when the IRA still had free hand; when the one pair of "best" shoes was handed down from brother to brother. One story I craved was of the bishop stopping by their farmhouse for tea - an extraordinary honor (and burden I might add) for this humble family. There were five brothers and only one "decent" shirt. My father described the parade of brothers into the parlor to kiss his eminences' ring. "Boy by boy" he told the tale. "Mam outside the parlor door whipping the good shirt off Con and squeezing Mick into it when it was his turn to go in. "

I think what turns family dinners for my lot into a "big happy family" is the energy. My kids are great story tellers, they try to outdo one another. They've taken over telling the stories I used to tell of them. Tales of derring-do from their childhood take on epic proportions, the lizards they tracked grow to mythical size dragons to be slayed, the roles they played interchange. They leave me exhausted and not occasionally confused! but I don't forget which boy told his first -grade teacher there was little point calling me to complain of his antics because, "my mom, she's an alien, she doesn't speak English", or which boy went over a cliff on his horse and stayed with her all night, refusing to be rescued without her. I don't forget my my mother, on learning that Lisa was to start out her law career as a public defender, wondering at the dinner table "why can't she defend a better class of criminal". They still call 'dibs' on the last bite of dessert; they all pitch in to clean up. I'm referred to as "The Mother" - much like "The Boss". I think that stems from raising them for so many years as a single parent. What I lacked in height I made up for with a voice of authority. I was the boss as they grew up.

Now we're in the annual "thinking about Thanksgiving" mode. All usual suspects have been invited; the menu is being debated. They've decided on my house this year. I like my big in spirit, often raucus, always loving, happy family. We'll be missing the Ethiopian crew this year- we'll Skype- the stories will twirl though cyber space.

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