You want to know what I had?
I had this great idea for a post. I was sure it would be a hit. Then, I bounced this idea off my husband, and he smiled and said, “Huh. Well, that’s just normal to me. That’s how I grew up.”
Well it’s not how I grew up! And I still hold that my idea was original and wonderful. At least, for folks like me.
What am I talking about here people?
I’m talking about the idea of staying: of living in one place. For years and decades. With family members close by. With unexpected pay-off’s.
Let me set the scene for you:
This weekend, my daughter had a birthday party at home.
“Happy Birthday tooooo yoooooouu!” we all sang. My in-law’s extended family crowded around the table, beaming at my oldest in the birthday chair. Her cousins and siblings made up the inner ring: the cohort of playmates radiating excitement. She glanced around at all the familiar faces once more, then blew out the seven candles stuffed into her purple frosted cupcake.
There was nothing particularly different about this one: there have been many kid parties in this living room. We have also seen the same faces at many holidays, telling stories and eating each other’s recipes.
After singing, I called my youngest niece to my side, and passed her a paper plate, which bowed under the weight of a cupcake and ice cream. Her 5-year-old hands carefully brought each plate to the adults of the party. It’s a family tradition: when it’s time for dessert, the children serve the adults first. They love it, pretending to be the wait staff, and grinning as each relative remarks about their steady hand, or praises their prompt service.
I have seen these children all grow big enough to carry dessert plates successfully. There is only one baby left in the bunch: my little guy. I have also seen the older faces – these moms and grandmas, these brother-in-laws and sister-in-laws – for years. I have seen grey hairs emerge and wrinkles deepen. I have looked into these eyes that look back in love.
At this party it struck me:
There is a great deal of something to be said about staying with your people.
I grew up in a family where my dad’s job moved us to a new town every 5-10 years. Which seemed like good long stays in each place. But even after I left for college, they moved again. I saw nothing wrong about it, and this weekend my parents showed up to the party, singing their lungs out too. But when I was growing up, we didn’t live around our greater family.
My husband was born and raised in this town. He comes from country stock that stays, works, and puts down roots in the land and in each other.
I’m learning that neither is necessarily bad. But I’m also learning what staying feels like. It entirely boils down to our choices.
Only when we stay, are these gatherings possible. Sharing ourselves and watching each other’s faces age as we hug hello again are the reward of making those choices to stay with our people, our family.
There are also people missing from our parties and holidays. Some because they have passed on, and some because of the choices they made, not to stay.
But these choices matter. They build, or break, a life of long-connection. The basic human need, to know and be known, is satisfied and replenished in the stream of years and years spent living life in connection together. It only works when all are in, when there’s a family culture of placing importance on the greater group. It’s an old-fashioned idea. It grates against each of our selfish desires. But for the hard work of staying, it gives us a gift: belonging.
You could be like my husband, and smiling at the sheer normalcy of my idea. Or you could be like me, starting to see the results of staying, and belonging, as the years tick by. There is a gravity to it, a sense that we are responsible to each other. But there is also a security in it, knowing that I have my own people close by. And they have me.