Thursday, March 17, 2011

Crystal Clear: Keeping family close, despite distance

Earlier this weekend, I found myself sitting on the floor at 9:30 p.m., surrounded by photo clippings and holding a pair of scissors, wondering whether I had a small photo of my dog to add to a family collage I was making to take to my son's day care room.

And although I knew I was dangerously close to going overboard on the project (I briefly considered Googling the music to the song "You're my Family" - a Nick Jr. staple, so I could accurately draw the notes on the bottom of the collage) making the collage gave me time to reflect on something I have been thinking a lot about: family.

Growing up, I remember spending all summer at my grandmother's house, playing softball with my cousins in a nearby open field, walking down the dusty county road to my aunt's house and exploring the land behind my grandfather's pig pen and cornfield.

Even during the school year, there was a bevy of cousins, aunts and uncles whose houses we often visited. And try as I may, there was no getting away from my two brothers, and later, my sister.

Making the collage, which came on the heels of trip to Mississippi where my son met his first cousins for the first time, reminded me that his experience will likely be nothing like mine. As a military family, we are constantly on the move, often putting us miles away from our hometowns and our families. So making the 10-hour or so trip to the Mississippi Gulf Coast, or even the sevenplus- hour trip to visit relatives in North Mississippi, isn't always feasible.

Busy work schedules sometimes make it difficult for us to even visit my husband's family members, many of whom live more than three hours away in Atlanta.

While I think we do a pretty good job of promoting family within our foursome (yes, I'm including the dog), it's hard to teach the type of closeness that comes with hanging out with siblings and other relatives.

That's why I am so grateful for my military "family" that has developed over the years. Even with my family miles away, I know I can call on a girlfriend and drop off my son or have a play date so he can have "siblings" for a few hours.

A couple of weeks ago, we attended a birthday party where my son got to paint alongside friends. I know the craft wouldn't have held his interest for long if it had just been the two of us, but with his temporary "cousins," around, he chose paint after paint, swirling it around on his pottery plate until I finally had to take it away.

So maybe I will take a cue from his day care class and create another collage; one with cousins, grandmas, grandpas, aunts and uncles, so that no matter how far away they may be physically, he will have the opportunity to see family anytime he wants, right there in his room.

Editor's note: Crystal Lewis Brown is editor of the Fort Jackson Leader and an Army spouse of six years.

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