A Poor Substitute

My parents were in town for a visit over the Thanksgiving holiday and they stayed for almost a week. Because we live so far from so much of our family, having them here was great fun. Especially for the kids, whose attraction to their beloved grandparents could only be described as… slightly aggressive. My mom and dad handled all of the attention-seeking and chaos with aplomb.

Since my parents’ departure yesterday morning, my three children have made it abundantly clear that I come in a very, very distant second to the pure joy and sunshine and rainbows that apparently radiate from their grandparents. The kids have been giving me a hard time since real life with mom is so much more boring than the holiday-no-homework-chocolate-for-dinner-finger-paint life with Grandma and Grandpa. I made Henry go to bed on time tonight and I thought his eyes were going to roll all the way back in his head. See, I am no FUN!

Grandparents play Monopoly with you. They read you books upon request. They take you on joyrides in their fun pickup truck. They don’t make you eat things that are green. They take the time to actually decipher what in the world you’re trying to say, Millie. In summary, grandparents make mommy feel guilty that the television is always on.


At one point, toward the latter part of their visit, we decided that actually leaving the house was in order. We headed to the Museum of the Confederacy in downtown Richmond. The museum is adjacent to the house Jefferson Davis called home when he served as president of the southern states. It’s an interesting place with an incredible collection of Civil War artifacts. And, while I was surprised to find it avoided all discussion of the root cause of the war, it did have a gift shop that sold actual swords and Virginia wine. So, that’s commendable.

Also, for $9.95, one could purchase a sack of union and confederate toy soldiers. My mother bought them for the boys (because, of course) and I think it is the best money ever spent in the history of children’s toys everywhere. I could not care less if I’m promoting warmongering. I only care that Saturday night, I got to sit with my husband and my parents, eat a delicious dinner and have great conversation that lasted for hours (plural!). Quiet, occupied hours. On and on those boys played with those soldiers. It was amazing. I have no idea where Millie spent that time but I can only assume she was starting a fire upstairs. Minimal damage, for sure.


Later that night, when checking on my sleeping kids, I had to pry one of the soldiers from Charlie’s grip, lest he bayonet himself in the eye while he slept. All this to say, the holidays are approaching. Toy soldiers. Just in case your quota of cheap plastic toys, manufactured in far away lands, that you will inevitably and painfully step upon hasn’t been met for the year. You’re welcome.

It Takes a Village

The summer after Bob and I were married, my father formally retired and moved with my mother back to the Midwest. I was pregnant with Henry at the time and my parents’ move took them from a totally doable distance of two to three hours away and replaced it with a much more commitment-heavy nine to ten hour drive. Their absence was felt immediately. And, most definitely later that year, when they had to leave to head back home within hours of Henry’s birth.

With our parents so far away, we were left to carve out a family of sorts from within our community. Del Ray was the perfect place to do just that. Our block in particular was full of folks in similar situations and we found a true surrogate support system. Some of my fondest memories of parenting during those early days are intertwined with memories of my neighbors and how they helped ease the burden of living so far from family. Whether it was a glass of wine, a huge Thanksgiving feast or just an extra hand to hold a screaming baby when I could no longer deal, the eight years spent on that street were spent as part of a large urban family.

Time passed and lives changed and over the course of a year, our block transformed dramatically as one by one, our dear neighbors moved on. We did, too.


My dad introducing Millie to the ocean. As you can see, Millie has no time for your introduction.

The suburbs have a distinctly different vibe and our new neighborhood is not nearly as transitional as our old one. It also seems like everyone we know has close family right in town. I’m normally not an envious person but when another mom in the neighborhood described the convenience of having her parents living two doors down, I turned a tad green. When she mentioned that she often offers to babysit for others since her parents take their grandkids at every opportunity, I may have briefly passed out.

We just don’t know a life like that.

One of the biggest regrets thus far in my, admittedly, short tenure as a parent is that my children will not grow up living in close proximity to family. We live a full days drive, in opposite directions, from either set of parents. All of our siblings are the same distance away – some even further. Both Bob and I come from these large, loving families and we live nowhere near any of them.

My desire to live close to family isn’t about wanting an extra set of hands to help with my children. Outside of some dicey medical issues, when we’ve had to call in reinforcements, we’ve pretty much got that covered. It’s also not about having my dad nearby to help fix things around the house or my mom close by to act as life coach. It’s simply all about having more time. I selfishly want more time with those important to us. I want more time than a week’s vacation to the beach allows. More time than a hectic few days over Christmas. I want to spend time with our favorite people without having to keep one eye on the balance of Bob’s annual leave.


My mom with a baby Charlie who was super sick. He had a mysterious virus and she flew in just to dance with him in our kitchen until he calmed down. Moms are good like that.

I want my children to really know their grandparents. I want my kids to bake cinnamon rolls with my mom. To go to church with my dad. To spend time outdoors with Bob’s parents. To know them in every day life, not just what can be compressed into visits of a few days in length.

I want more time with my sisters and my brother. With nieces and nephews and cousins all around. I would love for birthday parties to be big family celebrations and for holidays to be spent bouncing from house to house in seasonal sweaters.

And, I want to be available to help as our parents age. Our distance has meant we’ve had to stand on the sidelines for so many years as others have helped when we physically couldn’t be there. That’s been really tough; wanting to help but trying to figure out the how, when and where.

For now, we’re stuck. Bob has a career that he values. That he is really good at. That provides for our family and our future. That career keeps us in Virginia. We’ve crafted about a hundred different scenarios on how we could move physically closer to family while maintaining his employment but the bottom line is, we’re here for the long haul. I can accept that. Virginia is a beautiful place to live and we are endlessly blessed with his job.

So, we continue on the same path as before. Always in a state of perpetually planning our next visit with family. Imploring my parents to visit for Thanksgiving, booking a hotel for a Christmas holiday to New York, charting what we’ll do in Kentucky over spring break. My kids are still building big memories of their big family, its just there is always a long road between those memories. And, for now, that has to be enough.