When I was a kid, I would have said that one of the basic problems of my family was excessive geographical closeness. Not only were we all stuck in the same house, several of us were usually stuck sharing the same room. For a while I was with Kiskilili and Eve, and I can remember many conflicts over whether the door would be open or closed at night (I think at some point we had a chart of who got to decide on which day), and arguments which arose from different levels of desired tidiness. I still remember the drama which occurred when one of my toys made its way under Eve’s bed, and she claimed that anything which overflowed into her part of the room could be claimed as her own. I was on the top of a bunkbed, and Kiskililli was on the bottom, and I thought I was very clever when I proposed that our responsibility should be to clean underneath our respective beds. I later shared a larger room with Eve, which did not really ameliorate the tension, since she had to shovel my stuff back into my side of the room, and at one point I had a sheet hung around my bed so that I could hide from her. Then it was sharing with Kiskilili, which had its own amount of drama, as we alternated between playing elaborate games, and fighting. (I also had multiple hamsters, and K had a gerbil for a while, and this added to the general chaos.) Finally I got my own room when Eve left for college, and while I would like to say I was sad that she left, it would not really be true.
The irony now is that one of the things I like the least about our current family set-up is excessive geographical separation. We’ve really done well with scattering to the four winds–we have people on the East Coast, on the West, far to the north, and far to the south. I suppose at least we’re all still in the same country. But for me, Elbereth is the only sibling currently in driving distance (and it’s a full day’s drive)–I have to fly to see the rest. I’ve actually managed to do it somewhat regularly; it helps when I’m attending conferences nearby. But every time I leave them, I think, this is just ridiculous. It’s especially hard because you can find ways to stay in touch with adults long distance, but I really need to visit to appreciate my charming nieces and nephews.
In watching this play out, and especially noting some of the challenges faced by the married siblings who have children, I think something is fundamentally missing in the idealization of the nuclear family. We talk a lot about gender and exclusion of family types that don’t match the Mormon ideal, and obviously those are issues that I think are worth addressing. But I also think it’s an odd social development (in the culture more generally) which says that it is normal and expected to have isolated family units as the basis of society. I see a real loss if the extended family is taken out of that picture, as if it’s perfectly normal to expect two parents to pull off this child-raising thing pretty much on their own. As a single woman, I can’t really talk about this subject with any expertise, but I do think that for either of my siblings with kids, having the five single aunts around would be a good thing for all. Though I do think in the church, there’s a lot of effort to counter that problem by (ideally) having wards serve as a kind of extended families.
But back to the issue of geographical separation. It’s much easier than I think it would have been in the days before the internet. We call each other, of course, but there is no way you are going to manage to regularly talk to everyone. We used to have active family email lists, which still remain somewhat active, but much of their energy has been channeled instead to Facebook and blogging. And say what you will about Facebook–one of the reasons I love it is because it gives me a way to be in touch with my siblings in a more casual way, hearing random life tidbits and smart-alecky observations that wouldn’t be worth the effort to compose an email to share. And we have a family Skype every other week, which in classic family form, is often completely nonsensical. I see my siblings online enough, in various places, to feel a kind of basic connectedness–and so I say yay for technology.
I notice that for a lot of people I went to high school with (and yes, I gleaned this from Facebook), their families are still mostly in the same geographical area. And I wonder what that would be like. I wonder whether it’s easy for me to romanticize it precisely because I don’t have it, and whether it could cause more tension and repetition of those family dynamics and roles that you can recognize as problematic as an adult, but you nonetheless re-enact when the family is together. I think my siblings are a crazy amount of fun (and of course excellent bloggers to boot), but we’re not some kind of perfectly harmonious group who never get on each other’s nerves. I need my space, and I imagine they do as well. I just think at the moment I have somewhat too much space. So I’m curious–for those of you who have family close by, what’s that like for you? What are the positives and negatives? And for those of you who are more scattered, how do you manage that? How do you keep in touch?
- 17 May 2011