When I got married, I moved 300 miles from all of my family. I went from a small town on the shores of Lake Michigan to a suburb in the St. Louis area. At first, I felt adventurous. It was fun to get whisked away with my soul mate. I have an English degree, so I compared myself to literary heroines like the Dashwood sisters in Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, or Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, who traveled to new places and had interesting experiences. Except fortunately, I was pretty sure my new husband wasn’t hiding a crazy woman in his attic.
Josh and I loved married life. I girl-ified his former bachelor pad by hanging wedding pictures in the living room and putting scented soap in the bathrooms. I found a job and began learning my way around the city. We drove 6 hours each way to visit my family during the summer and again at Christmas. We had been married for almost a year when we simultaneously purchased our first house and found out I was pregnant. That’s when some of that sense of adventure about moving away from family began to wear off, and I regretted all the flat Illinois farmland that lay between us.
People asked my parents if they were going to try to arrive at the hospital in time for the birth of their first grandchild, but the trip would take about 6 hours and women in my family have short labors. Depending on when labor began, by the time my parents got off work or out of bed and got on the road, it was possible they would miss the birth. (As it was, our first daughter, Megan, was born in about 9 hours.)
Mom and dad drove down a few days after Megan’s birth, when we were home from the hospital and could actually use their help, and they spent almost a week with us. A few months later in the spring time, they came for a brief weekend visit to see Megan again. During the summer, we jammed our car full of baby supplies and headed up to see my family and participate in my brother’s wedding. In the fall, mom and dad again drove down for a weekend visit, and we all drove up again around Christmas.
Megan is 5 now, and we’ve added another daughter to our family, 1-and-a-half-year-old Abigail. We still have the same pattern to our family visits: my parents make brief trips here about twice a year, and about twice a year our little family makes longer trips to my hometown where we stay at my parents’ house and also see my siblings and one of my grandparents. Megan sleeps in my old bedroom at mom and dad’s house, which she finds special. I have nursed my babies at what seems like every stopping point on the way, and Megan is familiar with all the playgrounds at the Illinois rest areas we visit.
My daughters know their grandparents. Megan speaks with them on the phone and is comfortable being left with them. She talks nonstop when they come to visit and steals sips of dad’s diet soda. Abigail is a typical tentative toddler and eventually warms up nicely to my parents. Still, I would love for my daughters to spend more time with my parents, and with the rest of my family I left behind. As my girls grow, I realize how much we sacrifice because of the distance between us.
|Me with my daughters, mom, and sister on vacation.|
My parents are not around to personally witness milestones. The first steps. The first words. The first trip to the zoo. The first church Christmas program. The birthdays. The preschool parties. They don’t get a close-up view of how my daughters change from week to week and month to month.
I don’t have mom nearby to offer support and advice. She was an encouragement during my early attempts to establish breastfeeding with my firstborn, but it also would have been nice to have her around during sleep training, potty training, and a myriad of other early childhood rites of passage.
My parents can’t babysit. Unless you count the few times I’ve left my daughters with them for short periods while Josh and I run errands while we’re visiting.
We miss time together. We can’t easily get together to just hang out. We don’t have the luxury of spending an impromptu summer evening on the back patio eating grilled hamburgers, chatting, and watching the kids play. We can’t go for walks or go out for ice cream when the mood strikes. Instead, we must schedule these things during our planned, brief visits.
Yet, we make the long distance relationship with family work. We’ve developed ways to cope.
The Silver Lining
Social media helps. I am that mom who shamelessly posts a steady stream of pictures and videos of her children on Facebook. If I clog your newsfeed, just filter me out. I have also maintained personal blogs to help family stay in the know. It’s rarely pleasant to live far from family, but it’s never been easier to stay connected. Generations before ours would have only seen occasional photos of relatives.
|Playing the trombone at grandpa and grandma’s house.|
We make the most of the time we do have together. When we see my family, we make sure we have plenty of time to simply enjoy each other’s company. We don’t plan a lot of activities when my parents come for short weekend visits because they love to just hang out at our house where they can watch the girls play and interact with them. I love hosting and take pride in cleaning our house and planning meals. We cook special meals or order St. Louis specialties like thin crust pizza. If the weather is nice, we play outside or go for a walk in the neighborhood, but we prefer not to spend the weekend running all over the city and sightseeing because it seems to make the time pass too quickly. For longer visits, like when we’re together for a week, we plan trips to The Magic House, the St. Louis Zoo, or our municipal water park.
We vacation together. Last summer, we spent a few days with my parents, grandparents, and sister at Turkey Run State Park in Indiana. The park is located between our respective homes, so it’s a shorter drive to see everyone. We rented a cabin and spent our days at my parents’ camp site, where they lived out of a small camper. We cooked meals over the campfire, hiked trails, fed birds at the nature center, flew kites, swam in the pool, and bought Slush Puppies from the camp store. We’re making plans to return to Turkey Run this summer and are inviting all the extended family. Nearly three years ago, we spent a blissful week (except for the last rainy, floody day) living out of a tent pitched next to mom and dad’s camper at Meramec State Park west of St. Louis.
Also, while it was not so much a vacation, my parents spent a week at our house when Megan was 6 months old while my dad, a musician, attended a harmonica conference in town. Mom and I hung out all day every day with Megan, and dad was around off and on. We had a glorious, laid back week playing on the floor in our sunroom, eating BLT sandwiches, and swimming at the local pool. That conference is scheduled to be in our area again this summer, and I’m hopeful my parents can make it.
We spend time with my in-laws. While Josh grew up in the St. Louis area, the rest of his immediate family hadn’t lived here for years. When we announced we were expecting our first baby, Josh’s mother moved back here. She was recently divorced and living six hours away in a town she no longer had any reason to stay in. She has since remarried, and we regularly spend time with her and her husband. They are some of the kindest, most generous people I know, and Josh’s mom is a nice alternative when I can’t be near my mom.
We spend time with adopted family. We live around the corner from the parents of one of Josh’s good college friends. They have treated us like family for years and the wife tells her friends and coworkers that Josh is one of her sons, which really confuses people sometimes. Our girls call them grandpa and grandma, and we get invited to their family Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter celebrations. They also cared for Megan in the middle of the night when I went into labor with Abigail.
Josh and I have talked about what it would take to move closer to my family, but it’s unlikely to happen. We live where we do primarily because Josh’s job pays well and allows me to stay home with our daughters. Moving back to my hometown would mean a pay cut for Josh and would require me to bring in a second income, so we remain here. It’s not bad. It would be hard to leave my in-laws at this point. St. Louis is also relatively easy to get around for being a large metropolitan area. It offers lots of entertainment options like the Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis Science Center, and the Gateway Arch, and the region gets a whole lot less snow than my hometown.
Still, I miss my family. Ask Josh, and he’ll tell you I sometimes choke up at the end of a visit back home, often at that moment when we’re pulling onto the interstate to head back to Missouri. One can always hope that we’ll convince more family to migrate here. It worked with my mother-in law. In the meantime, social media and phone calls help. Now, pass me another Jane Austen novel.
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