I didn’t know that coming back home would mean going back in time. That old streets and old walls bring out old arguments that maybe we thought had slipped away but really, it seems, have simply taken on new forms. I did not know how much harder it could be to be an adult but still feel like a kid, stuck inside the norms and habits that have made us who we are with each other, even if the rest of the world knows us as someone else. I did not know that this is not necessarily hypocrisy, but more like survival. I did not know how difficult it would be to remember, over and over again, that we all love each other and are doing the best we can.
I didn’t know how much it would mean to me that my kids know where I come from, even as I build something new with them that looks different than what was built for and around and by me in my youth. I want my kids to see some of what once was and for them to understand me better. I want them to know me, know my history—these are the streets I walked and the mountains I saw and the water I waded in and the bridges I crossed. I want them to agree with where I’m going. I didn’t know that my desire for validation would extend not just to the generation before me, but the precious generation that is coming behind. I am always looking for someone to nod and say, “That’s just what I would have done, too.”
I didn’t know how accurately our kids reflect the secret longings and fears of our own hearts. How each whiney request, each touch of the hand, each Mommy I’m hungry! and Nana can I have one? and Not that one! and Can I help with dinner? tell a story of not just them but me, of all of us together, mirroring each other and learning how to be and how we want to be and what we aspire to and what we want to leave behind. I didn’t know the depth of the challenge of not just modeling for them what I want them to see but being with them as I want them to experience me.
I didn’t know that coming back home would make me wonder, yet again, whether home is a place or a collection of people. And can it be both, in two different places at once?
These are things I once didn’t know about family.