First of all, the wedding was absolutely beautiful. I cried. I and S are so obviously in love. They have a gorgeous daughter. I’m so glad the nation’s capital recognizes their love and commitment and honors their right to marry whom they choose.
The number of family members who showed up for this occasion was astounding, given that we only had two weeks’ notice. Cousins and friends from all over the country and even South America came to celebrate with the happy couple. (Granted, some of them had already made plans to be in the area, months in advance, but still.) Hubby has many more cousins than I do. Although my immediate family is large, I only have one uncle (my mom’s brother) and one aunt (his wife). They have four children, but they are all much older than me, and I was never close with them.
Hubby’s family, on the other hand, is much different. His mother had three siblings, and they each had between one and four kids. And now those cousins have kids–ranging in age from 8 months to 30 years old. So when there is a family event, it is an event.
There are no casual greetings. Everyone greets each other with the same series of movements–like a dance–only, I haven’t quite learned all the steps. Remember how I’m not a hugger? Well, Hubby’s family is. And when you arrive at a family gathering, each member greets you with a hand on each shoulder, right cheek smooshed to your own right cheek, a quick air kiss and “How are you?” “So nice to see you,” etc., followed by a hug. It’s an ordeal, and one I can’t quite get used to. Imagine this ritual times 20+ family members, every time you enter a room. And then again when you get ready to leave.
And it’s not just with family members you haven’t seen for ages. It’s everyone. Cousins who live just blocks from each other. Moms and sons. Dads and daughters. Everyone keeps to the same routine, whether they saw you an hour or a decade ago. It’s both affectionate and formal. And it makes me really uncomfortable.
Another huge difference between our two families is money. Hubby’s family has it; mine doesn’t. But it’s not the money itself that makes for obvious discrepancies. It’s the whole lifestyle. They all drive fancy cars, wear expensive clothes, live in enormous homes. They’re all tan and gorgeous and have perfect teeth. They all have successful careers in finance or marketing or economics or engineering. They send their kids to private schools, or they make a big deal out of sending them to public schools for the diversity.
One of my husband’s aunts has four children, each with children of their own. The youngest is 18 months, but the next oldest is 17. Hubby described the little one as “an outlier.” In private, he tells me he’s afraid the kid will be spoiled because everyone makes such a fuss over him. But of all the outliers within Hubby’s family, the two of us are probably the most obvious ones.
We don’t have the money they do, although we were fortunate to have enough to make the trip. We don’t have the careers they do. Hubby is, at the moment, unemployed, but even if he weren’t, he wouldn’t be making anywhere near the money his cousins do. And he has no desire to. I remember the wife of one of his cousins once making a remark to the effect that she wanted to be a doctor or a lawyer when she went to college, so that, if she had to, she’d be able to support herself. I supported myself just fine on a teacher’s salary for years.
But we’re not just outliers in his family. We don’t exactly fit into my own family, either. I’ve felt this way for as long as I can remember. I was the first person in my family (excluding cousins) to earn a bachelor’s degree. Not only that, but I went on to get a master’s. Hubby has a PhD, something unheard of in my family.
A few months ago, Hubby gave me a book, for no other occasion than that he thought I’d like it. I had heard of it vaguely before but never read it. I started reading it on the plane, on our way to DC. It’s Stoner, by John Williams, and on p. 26, I found the words that sum up my relationship with certain family members, based on the different paths we chose to take:
But he found that he had nothing to say to them; already, he realized, he and his parents were becoming strangers; and he felt his love increased by its loss.
I knew my parents were proud of me for the education I received and the possibilities that education opened up to me; my siblings probably were, too. But it was that very education, in combination with my introversion and shyness, that made me feel like an outcast among my own family. I found that I had very little in common with the rest of them. I think I had always known it, but time and the formality of degrees only sharpened that point.
I’ve mentioned before that my family isn’t exactly affectionate. Imagine my surprise when my oldest sister and her husband were traveling through our city briefly, and my brother-in-law hugged me twice during their quick visit. But even Zappa and I don’t hug each other regularly when I visit her. (Although, during this most recent visit, A ran to me and leaped into my arms when she first saw me.)
And then, of course, there is the fact that, within each of our families, Hubby and I are the only ones without children. While I don’t put too much emphasis on the other differences, this is the one that hurts.
We’ve had plenty of discussions about how, when our time comes, we would do things differently than this sister or that cousin does. Regardless of where or how we fit into the puzzles of each of our families, Hubby and I are a perfect match for each other. And while our lifestyle will likely fall somewhere between his family’s and mine, we will make our own way in the world, and I think we both prefer it that way.
PS – Hubby and I were chatting with S about the whole surrogacy/donor egg/gestational carrier process, and during the conversation, Hubby admitted, of his own free will, that we are experiencing infertility and can relate a bit to what they’ve been going through to build their family. I was a little shocked, but proud he was so open about it. I wasn’t sure he would be at such a large family gathering. I guess commonality can be found in the strangest of places–even your own family.