Reflecting on the ‘if only’

I was thinking of the definition of family the other day, wondering why it seems limited to “a group consisting of parents and children living together in a household; a group related by blood or marriage.”
That seems a stark definition to me—lacking the soul and depth that the mere word family conjures up.
Family is the place where you lie your head when you rest, the place where you limp to when your heart is broken, the place you run to with exciting news, and it is the place where you slide into a hammock and breathe quiet.
Family and home are one word, are interchangeable, with nothing to do about bricks and mortar, wood or nails.
I think of all the people I consider family; those who put their arms around me when I was growing up, to keep me safe. Annie and I share no common genes, and I didn’t exactly live in her household, but she is my family in the truest sense of the word. She knows the stories when her day included me.
A family shapes and reshapes, moves over to make space, spreads out to share the burden of a loss. And sometimes a family member wanders off into the wilderness, but we still can see him, still hear her breathing.
I just spent eight days with my family—my four daughters. We are now strewn about the country like dandelion seeds and our time together, all of us in one place, is much too rare.
The five of us are individuals; separate entities who are able to fly solo—kept airborne by our own skills and determination. But there is an invisible thread that runs from each of us to the others—a thread we can use to steady us when we hesitate or are fearful, a thread like a calling bell in an old Victorian home, a thread that says, when pulled, I need you.
I love to watch my family, watch the parts of them that linger from childhood, the bits and pieces that only can be seen by a mother’s eyes—the wounds, the confidence, the tilt of her head, her smile now changed by grown-up teeth.
I love watching the adults they have become, the assuredness, the poise, the willingness to compromise, the knowing when to hold firm.
I know that once we move apart, return to our respective places of dwelling, that the longing gets into the pit of my stomach and twists and aches, and the wish that we could live down the street from one another starts to play in my head—the “if only.”
If my daughters lived within reach, I would bake an “ishgy-gishgy cake,” the recipe passed from my Grandma Stewart to my mother to me. I would slip the cake into their refrigerators while they were away at work.
I would fold their laundry, and leave it crisp and stacked the way my mother used to; the folding smoothing away all life’s bumps on that particular day.
I would plan impromptu picnics with thick sandwiches and sour pickles and fabulous salads. I would invite them to make snow angels and count the snowflakes that land on our tongues.
I would walk their dogs and scrub their sinks.
I would sit back and watch them raise their families, and get a second chance to fix the slip-ups I made. I would repeat the stories of their childhood perfection and I would understand when parenting becomes complicated and hard work.
I would be the relief pitcher.
I would hug my daughters every single day and tell them how privileged I am to be their mother, how fate gave me such a perfect gift in them. I would whisper thank you to my own parents for their commitment to me; for accepting the challenge to create a new generation with stronger purpose and more dedicated effort to get it right.
So for now, I will don my Rainy Lake sweatshirt and remember all of us in our Rainy Lake sweatshirts in rainbow colours from Doug and Blair.
And I will laugh—and then wait until we can come to Rainy Lake again.
wendistewart@live.ca

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