Every year, my sister hosts a reunion for our increasingly large family two days after Christmas. We call it Hamfest. And my brother Michael always brings a science experiment to demonstrate. I may, in fact, have the coolest family on earth.
This year, the five remaining siblings found ourselves sitting together at the table after the meal, reminiscing. We haven’t done this since…. We have never actually done this before. I mostly listened. My brothers are such good story-tellers.
But weird thoughts occurred. Like, how come they got to go play in the school yard and I never did? It was only the next day that it finally dawned on me that they were old enough to achieve some form of independence while we lived in Detroit and I was only nine when we moved to Windsor. I was allowed to ride my bike to the corner and back. Once I circled the block. As I announced this very excitedly to my mother, she said, “Congratulations! Don’t do it again.”
Somehow, in my recollections, I forget that we weren’t always the way we are now. That the large hairy men whose home I invaded fifty-four years ago were, at the time, not quite so large or hairy. That my sister, the font of all wisdom for most of my life, started in that role at the tender age of five, or about the age her first grandchild will be when her baby sister or brother is born later this summer.
And as I relaxed the next day, in my post-Hamfest stupor (there’s a reason we call it Hamfest…) I started thinking about my parents, who were always the final authority on everything. At about the age my niece is now, with her growing family of little ones. This thought pattern was helped along by the fact that she looks so much like my mother at that age. And the thing is, she’s so YOUNG! Fully capable of raising a family and doing it well, but also prone to doubts and worries and moments of having no clue at all what she’s doing and worried about what effect that is having on her children. Just like all parents everywhere. Just like Mum and Dad….
We were raised by amateurs.
These people who we look up to and blame, who we spend our entire lives coming to terms with and getting over were lost, scared kids when most of these things were happening and we saw them as gods.
I’m not always fond of family reunions. I’m not that comfortable in a huge crowd. But as a way of putting your life in perspective, they really can’t be beat. You get to see your life unfolding in echoes down the generations. If you play the numbers game, as in, ‘When I was your age I was doing…’ ‘Mum and Dad were that age when…’ ‘You were that tiny when I was born!’ you can find your way to softening your view of the past. You can forgive the five-year old (or ten- or twenty-) incarnations of the adults you know now, who you forget were ever younger than they are today. You can realize that they all had lives before you arrived with your centre-of-the-universe leanings and tried to take over the house.
And you can look at your nieces and nephews as they go through their growth and change and struggles and think, hmmmm… I guess I was really young when I made that bone-headed decision. Maybe my adolescent awkwardness wasn’t quite as ungainly as it seemed to me then. Maybe….
Maybe we can all cut each other some slack.
We’re messy, ever-changing and often confused as hell, trying to respond in an instant to something that may live on forever in someone else’s memory.
Eat some ham. Try a science experiment. Be gentle with yourself.