My Failure As A Long Distance Family Member

It’s one of those nights when the home feels moderately, sustainably, neat and clean, and I have a plan for dinner and everything feels manageable.

All feels cozily “normal”, like this is what life is supposed to be, like we have ample room to move around, like we don’t live in a scrunched up, tiny place, but really our view looks out into an expansive backyard and wind rushing through sturdy, formidable trees. 

Like life and things are settled. Like gravity is keeping us in check and in place. 

I’m trying to settle. 

At 34,  I feel like I’m just starting to put my feet on the ground, just beginning my professional career.

Last year, the title “teacher” displayed itself on a gold chain necklace around my neck, and finally, surprisingly, it fit. 

I’m hesitantly opening up those heavy, glass professional doors in my newly pressed grey suit and calling out, as if I am straight out of college, “Hello ?Anyone? I’m here…”

There was so much movement in our twenties and early thirties, as we launched ourselves across the world and changed residencies like wildfire, and grew children, and surfed at our own risk through storms and challenges and bright spots. 

But perhaps it’s the leaving behind of the greater family unit that’s the most unexpected shift aspect of it all. 

Growing up, we grew with our respected families and functioned as a unit, whether spectacularly or mediocre or dysfunctionally. But to live across country, and meet up again, after we’ve grown our own family and started a new rhyme and way of functioning, makes for confusing times. Whose role is whose? Who does what and when? In the midst usually of no school, work, or structure, no less. 

I like space. I like my own time. I function in my own space decently well, sometimes, like tonight, when my immediate family unit uses a particular structure: arise, dress, bus, school, work, play, home, dinner, rest, repeat. 

In those days, I spend hours replenishing; journaling, meditating, yogaing, creating, organizing, conversing, collaborating.

But then. For holidays or special occasions or just because, we return to the greater family unit as we both forgo our individual rhythms and precious functioning for some vague, unstructured collective unit haphazardly strewn together for a few days. 

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Two homes become one home. 

Three children turn to me and ask, every minute, “Mommy, what’s next?” 

I don’t know. I have no idea what’s next, for hours on end, for days on repeat.

I wish I could find my footing during those times. I wish I could function at optimal, impressive, giving capacity. 

I wish I could be friendly and helpful and everything that everyone needs from me. 

But at that point, in this midst of communal unit chaos, without my own familiar walls to keep me company, with three, squeaking, needy children, without my silences to help me find my soul, I lose myself along with everything else. I’m a body with a heart that nudges my skin and bones along, fiercely chanting, “Try, try, try. Function, function, function. Do your best.”

Even when I know my best will not be good enough. 

I can’t help but sink. I can’t help but feel lost and lonely and empty and angry, right at the moment and time when I want to reconnect with my roots. But I try. Dear Gd, I try. 

It is only when I return home, to the familiar walls, the calming, self- defining  structure, that I see my self, my deepest self, my truest self, sitting on my bed, shining in her glory, smiling sympathetically, saying, “I’ve been waiting this whole time.”

My sober, depleted, abandoned body gives this self a heartfelt squeeze and sinks down next to my her, still embracing, arms around shoulders. “I’m so glad I found you again,“ she says. “I wish we could have made the journey together. Maybe one day.”


Photo credit: Joshua Rawson-Harris