Salute to Spouses Blog

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By Amy Nielsen

Yesterday I took a trip down memory lane, on a quick and somewhat unannounced visit to my relative’s house.

We recently moved closer to home than I have lived in nearly 15 years. Many of the people I saw yesterday had never met my daughters, who are school age now. In bringing my daughters to meet family in this unassuming way, I was apprehensive of the reception we would receive. My extended family can be overwhelming, and overwhelmed, upon first meeting.

My daughters had no idea what kind of living fairy tale they were walking into. You see my family is as unique as they come. Full of epic tales of lofty princes and self-made, men of great invention, of grave danger and suffering, of brilliant joy and great riches, and a fair many improbable people in unbelievable situations doing unimaginable acts of oddity.

I am the second youngest of a large group of cousins from aging, sibling parents. Our parents, like so many of yours, are downsizing to smaller more manageable homes. They are in the process of deciding what is a family heirloom and what is better as a photo and a few dollars in the yard sale. It is excruciating, delightful, impossible, and in some cases, downright obnoxious.

I am not the daughter of the parent downsizing this time, but, I have been through it before when my parent downsized substantially. We made some mistakes in that move and I am hoping to help alleviate or mitigate some of those potential errors for my relatives. I can’t take much into my small home, but I have room for a few things to be kept safe, dry, and most importantly - in the family, albeit extended.

Today, as I put new-to-me family trinkets away in my house, I am reminded that my definition of family has evolved over the years that I have been away. That evolution outside of my immediate and first tier relations has made it easier, and in some cases even possible, for me to reconnect. I am deeply grateful that I have an extended family who I love and want to be part of. It was an eye opening, humbling, and brilliant day.

My memories of the times in the house we were going through were vastly different from my relatives who lived there full time. I was the younger visiting cousin of the younger sibling of the parent. We visited on holidays and weekends, stayed for extended summer vacations, and were often in the area.  We had a smaller vacation home we stayed at when we visited, but we live on the other side of the state.

I looked up to all of these people and their great adventures with the artists, intellectuals, world class musicians, business moguls, and glamorous people that rotated through the house regularly. At least I thought they were all totally glamorous. As it happened, I had no clue who most of them were at the time. I am only now learning what opportunities I experienced.

We, as a family, have a history of working for, by, with, around, and sometimes in direct competition with our greater relations. What I am here to say is that unless you have a supremely well adapted and equipped family, if you are ever tempted to go into business with one of them, don’t. Period.

That said, many of the most amazing adventures we have had, have to do with the various and sundry business exploits both sets of our parents embarked on at different times in our youth. We spent several happy minutes when a cabinet was opened to reveal stacks of magazines and documents pertaining to past corporate ventures. Some wildly successful for a time, some an unmitigated disaster from the very inception. These were exactly the kinds of treasures we were out to collect from the crannies of a house that has been stuffed to the gills over decades of collecting.

In the midst of some silliness I was reminded that personal nature doesn’t change easily or readily, especially in times of crisis or deep personal stress. The discussion was short but the effect was profound. My response, borne out of years of work, was completely different from what was expected by the other party and it gained me a measure of personal respect for myself and my hard work that carried me through several other potentially difficult conversations. The change in my personal conduct was tested and I rose to the occasion, dug deep, and was able to use techniques I have been learning for years.

My daughters came away with a new found sense of identity and history. They understand a bit better when I tell stories to our friends of my time at the big house. The have a much better feeling of what makes me who I am and by extension who they are. That is invaluable.

I am so pleased that they were finally able to meet the people who helped, in large part, shape who I am and my philosophy of the world. They are not only family, they were and are friends. Our kids now are connected in a way that they will never forget. That is Ohana.

As I processed the day in all of its glory, on the drive home with the snow falling like Star Wars hyperdrive over the Hudson River and through the Connecticut woods, I settled on four lessons I learned.

The first was that we as a collective have been part of some pretty amazing adventures and I wish I remembered them more clearly. I was just a few years too young and a bit too removed to remember them well.

The second is my reaction to a specific situation was, in the blink of an eye, changed by my personal decision to rely on several years-worth of training to act like a duck.

Third, I learned that if I want to know those stories and be able to pass them along to my daughters, the best way to do it is with their help.

Finally I learned the true meaning of the line from Stitch, “Ohana means family and family means no one gets left behind or forgotten.” Even and especially those who move along the path ahead of you.

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