• Stephanie Hammond

Keeping up with family ...

I have a beautiful, large family. Everyone tells me so, and I know I so. What’s the number? If I count my own children, their children and their children’s children, I have 45 souls linked to me directly.

However, when I count up who is in my family, I add in my nephews and nieces, my -in-laws, my steps, and those that call me aunty, or gran out of love and respect, and then the number is over 140. Some live close by in our city, others quite a distance away, either elsewhere in NZ, or overseas - Australia, England, Germany, USA.

People often ask me how do I keep up with them all? I’m often at a loss to find an answer. I’m attempting now to describe what is a variety of relationships within the whole.

The truth is: I don’t. I don’t keep up with them all. Not formally, that is. Oh, I have a birthday calendar and so I remember everyone’s birthday. Either I look on the calendar, or FB sends me a message reminding me. And then I might write a birthday message on their FB wall. And I might send cards, or pick up the phone and call, or send a present. It’s the same in reverse. I might get birthday messages or phone calls or cards. It’s the way of this modern world.

I don’t know how this comes across in the telling. What I do know is: I feel ok about the way things are.

Sometimes I get included in milestone events. More often I don’t. Especially if they have religious significance or sporting events - things I might not enjoy. Sometimes I’m invited to weddings, sometimes not. Sometimes I’m included in celebrations of the birth of a new baby, sometimes not. Sometimes I’m invited to share a meal. Sometimes not.

When I’ve mentioned this informal and relaxed attitude in my family, some people feel uncomfortable. But I don’t.

I know where my family members are. I know how to get hold of them. I have a will and an enduring power of attorney set up in the event of some major disaster happening to me. And my immediate family members all figure in that to some extent.

As far as day to day communication is concerned, I know where to get hold of them and they know how to contact me. As children grow into adults and establish their own family units, life becomes focused on their small unit. At least in some cultures this is so, and obviously it is in mine.

I can pop onto FB any time of the day or night and ‘catch up’ with what’s going on in their world. They can do the same with me, to a lesser extent, granted, as I don’t put much up these days.

Through social media I see how happy a granddaughter is in her new marriage, the love he has for her and she for him. I see how a great grandchild is growing, hear about her new found language and motor skills, and see the joy of parenthood captured in the words of her mother. I hear the joy in a grandson’s excitement at a new job, recognition for years of study, and at his skills being valued by a new employer. I see the depth and breadth of their talents: a song bravely sung, photos of art work hopefully displayed, and photos of clothes crafted. And much, much more.

Would I rather be there with each of them? The answer to that is a resounding ‘yes’. The reality is that I can’t come to take my grandson out for a celebratory meal in Germany, or sit beside my granddaughters as they show me their latest creations, and I wasn’t able to make it to Arizona for a wedding. And sometimes local events get missed as well.

I’m not disappointed with how life is. I remember being a mother with children at home and all the busyness of life. And besides my memories, I have my great imagination. When I see celebrations, or read of heartbreaks, or hopes and dreams, I’m right there, in the shadows of my mind, encouraging, crying, and cheering.

If that’s hard to understand, hard to fathom, then that’s ok too. The truth as I see it is this. I had seven babies. All those babies are now adults, living lives in ways I am proud to see. They are not children any more. In fact, I can legitimately say: “I have no children.” My family consists of adults who are in varying stages of caring for their own families. I honour them all in their parenting and life choices, and set them free from any “responsibilities” they might erroneously feel to be a “child” to me.

Yet, we are there for each other when support and love are needed. When I married my soulmate in 2011, they were there, rejoicing and celebrating with us. (See the photo of some of us all).

And they were there when one of them lost a baby, they were there, offering comfort and hope and understanding.

One day I will need care. And when that day comes, I know I will be cared for. Hopefully not out of a sense of “responsibility”.

For now, I am happy to say they are free to live their lives.

I am blessed. So very blessed. And so are they all.

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