Three days have passed since me and mine converged under my mother’s roof for a long overdue family Thanksgiving dinner. I am glad to say that it was everything I had hoped for and more. My mother was quite comfortable being the center of attention, demanding kisses from anyone who crossed the threshold of the home’s front door, taste-testing all the desserts before the main course even arrived, and questioning everyone about what was happening in their lives with great relish. She was happy and we—in turn—were, as well.
My beautiful niece, Katie, and her equally beautiful husband Danny garnered a lot of attention throughout the day. They were just married earlier last month and being around them made us feel like some things were still right in this world. More than that, listening to them talk about their setting up house, plans for the future, and present struggles—I think—reminded us of what it was like to be young and just starting out, an exciting time…when it is not scary.
This got me thinking about what was in store for them. Buying a house. Having a kid or two. Dealing with a life that doesn’t slow down, even when you don’t have the energy for it. My sister and I know these things well—intimately even. We, however, have always had our mother to help us through the tough times, whether through providing financial assistance or just being there on the other end of the phone, patiently listening to our catastrophized problems. It was then that I realized that she was still doing the exact same thing for my four nieces and nephew—her grand-kids. I couldn’t help but wonder who would be there for them during those trying times when the last thing they wanted to do is talk to one of their parents. Who would step in and take the reins when mom’s time with us was at an end?
It was somewhere between the pumpkin pie and the chocolate-chip cookies that it dawned on me that, as the man of the family (my father has not been an active participant in our lives for a couple of decades now), the responsibility—to some extent—may fall upon my shoulders. I had never really entertained that notion, since—I guess—we all like to think our parents will live forever, but the reality of the situation has been “real” for almost five years now and the fact of my mother’s mortality is indisputable and inescapable. I had already experienced a significant shift in family role three years ago when I became her medical and durable powers of attorney. The past two years have been chaotic, as she has been in and out of hospitals and nursing homes, needing more and more assistance to take care of her activities of daily living. No one is ever really prepared to have the tables turned on them and take care of their parent, as they once did for them: it doesn’t seem natural, but nothing could be more. I had grown accustomed to change, then, and must continue, as I look forward. After all, I am the man of my family, now, despite a long history of reluctance on my part to step-up and assert myself in this role. What this will end up looking like, I have no idea.
I could be the “cool uncle,” who remains constantly neutral and offers emotional support between off-color jokes and maintaining his online Twitter presence on his iPad Air Pro. I could be “old sage uncle,” who hands out solid career advice and wisdom via barrages of unsolicited advice and long, drawn-out personal anecdotes. Whatever “way” I go about this, I need to come up with a plan, now, because I am one dachshund and a hairpiece away from being “creepy uncle,” who hoards dogs and doesn’t leave the house for anything but work and to fill grandma’s pillbox. For sure, I will have to get to know my sister’s kids, again, before I can come up with a viable plan and that seems pretty OK to me.
It is ironic, really. I moved back home from Austin, Texas to be closer to my mother and help her out, as she became less and less able to handle things, independently. Turns out, my familial responsibilities have extended further beyond that. I shouldn’t be surprised: one can never, truly, escape their cultural orientation. Hispanics are typically a collectivist bunch, meaning family is central to everything: it touches everything we do and are. What affects one affects the whole (and vice-versa).
If this Thanksgiving was any indication of what things could be like in the future, I am hopeful. It was good feeling like I was part of a family, again—something bigger, more solid than myself. I had not realized how much I missed my sister and her kids, even though they were always just a phone call away. Thanks, mom.
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