Families moving away from each other is nothing new. It is definitely not a particular trend of this generation. However, I had not stop to think of this until our recent trip to Montreal. Before this summer, I had felt as if I was the only one around me living without family close by. No Sunday barbecues at the grandparents’ house, no cousins’ birthday parties to attend; my existence a mere legend for the new kids in the family to learn about “the aunt who lives in the US”.
I have been nothing more than a photo on a telephone screen for my immediate family from the moment I moved to the States. The voice on the other side of the telephone. The daughter, sister, cousin, aunt that goes to Mexico to visit once a year. My children the ghosts of the grandparents’ tales.
While I love having a close-knit immediate family, I do sometimes feel the guilt of not providing my children with the day-to-day interactions that their friends have with their extended families living close by.
I had been so focused in my own experience, that I had failed to notice that my story is a repeated one from the beginning of times. I’m the relative who moved away. Just like my husband did and so many people of his family had done before him. I would like to focus on one of my husband’s relatives in particular, his aunt Marie, who moved from their little village in Lebanon to the big city of Montreal with her family just months before my husband was born.
He grew up hearing about his aunt and his five cousins and bits and pieces of their lives. Their memory a fading one among the remaining family members until a phone call would revive it in their hearts and minds. Only once did my husband got to interact with three of his “cousins in Montreal” when they went to visit the family in “the old country” and then just a couple of times with his aunt before he decided this summer that it was time we went to Canada to meet the rest of his relatives there.
The excitement was palpable even in our children who were looking forward to meeting new family members. It is so rare for them to interact with family in person that they could not wait to get to know their cousins, even though they were all grown ups.
It was Friday evening when the two youngest cousins, the ones that had never been back to Lebanon, where coming to meet us (quite literally) at the hotel. The warmth of their smiles was the immediate welcome into the family that my children so craved. We felt at ease and happy from the beginning. The conversation plentiful and effortless. When the rest joined us at a restaurant for dinner, we turned from a group of strangers into a cheerful family reunion that widened our hearts to fit them all in.
My children were immediately drawn to their cousins, a few of them already had admirers among my little ones. In the upcoming day, the kids enjoyed touring the city but they could not wait for Sunday to see their “big cousins” again.
We drove to the suburbs where one of them was hosting us at his house for the kind of Sunday family barbecue that is the staple of so many childhoods. We parked the car and we were greeted by a committee of cousins who wanted to witness the embrace of an aunt and her nephew. As I saw that from the distance, I understood it all: family bonds are stronger than distance and time; legends told by other family members do bring you closer with those who had left.
As we came in and we made ourselves at home, our cousins took care of us all and made sure to spend individual quality time with the five of us. We felt so loved and the afternoon was so special that it did not matter all the time that we had spent without knowing one another, once we looked into each other eyes, we knew it, we were among family!