This column runs in the August 27 edition of the Alameda Sun. Comments are always welcome, here or on Twitter!
You can Go Home Again
We made our annual trek to the east coast again this summer, the girls and I. Although it was our third summer vacation east of the Mississippi in a row, this time it was different. This time we spent either every day or part of every day with family. Depending on your perspective (and your relationship with your own family), that kind of trip could be a heavenly experience or a harrowing one. For me, it was a little bit of both.
Usually on these vacations, we spend most of the time with friends and let the family see us coming and going, literally. The real difference this year was that my brothers and sisters and I found our way back home together with our father at the same time. It’s a rare occurrence—the last time we were all together was at my mother’s funeral 11 years ago. A lot has happened since then and I didn’t want my girls or me to miss this opportunity.
We covered a lot of ground during our trip. We caravanned up to Vermont to see my younger sister and got a quick taste of her family’s country living in a beautiful, pastoral setting. With her infinite hospitality, she managed to entertain 18 people throughout a very rainy day. Then we headed back to New Jersey, spending a good chunk of the remaining time driving from the New York to the Pennsylvania borders and down to the shore. In fact, one day, six of us packed into my Dad’s Buick to drive 200 miles, never leaving the fourth-smallest state in the union, to meet my father’s first great-grandchild (a girl, of course!) and then to see more cousins.
It’s amazing the dynamics that happen when you reunite with your family. I guess I should limit that statement to just one person—what happens to me. I return every year thinking that I have changed so much, seen so much, been through so much and I think people, both old friends and family, will see that, notice that I’ve changed and grown up into this fabulous person. What I noticed was that as soon as I land, I turn into an awkward teenage girl all over again, all the benefits of my age and wisdom quickly dropping to the wayside. It took a few days for me to realize this and I had to really shift my awareness. I am not a teenager anymore. This time, when I left the east coast, I left feeling like a grown up.
I wonder if it’s true for families that don’t separate. If I saw my brothers and sisters every day here in Alameda, would I still turn into the awkward teenage girl that I become now when I see them all? Or, if I hadn’t left New Jersey, would I be the same person I am today?
I don’t believe that people really change that much. Things happen to you—college, marriage, the deaths of loved ones, the birth of children, divorce, illness, careers—but what changes inherently? I often wonder if it’s all of your successes and failures that determine who you are or if it’s who you are that determines your outcome. Maybe it’s a little bit of both.
Thinking back over the journey, I can’t help but think, “Wherever you go, there you are.” The good news is that this time, I have realized what triggers the emergence of that awkward teenage girl and am learning to be the Mary Lee she has grown into. It’s a lesson I want to somehow teach my girls. That you are just you, a combination of all ages of you, and maybe it’s not all that bad.