I am fortunate enough to be the aerobics instructor for a class called "Silver Sensations." It's an exercise class for energetics over the age of 55. The first time I taught them I absolutely hated it. I actually went home and cried. I made my playlist of oldies and planned out a great routine. I wasn't prepared to have 42 (!) people come to the class! A handfull of the participants looked as if they could go run 4 or 5 miles and another handfull were with walkers and on oxygen. Talk about overwhelmed! My nerves were definitely frazzled and within the first 5 minutes I was called down to childcare because my baby had a poop that needed changing. They were not understanding and I got more and more nervous. By the time "Great Balls of Fire" came on I was almost in tears. That was not fun.
Fortunately, I've gotten used to the class and they've gotten used to me. Actually, it would be more accurate to say that we have fallen in love with each other. They bring me in zucchinis from their gardens; I teach them the bachata. They bring in some healthy, cost-friendly recipes; I take them through gentle but rejuvinating stretches (that are osteoporosis safe, of course). A few of them watch their grandchildren once a week and we'll get together for playdates. It's been great for lonely old me...and the spark in their eyes when they see me tells me it's been good for them too. So they were sad when I told them that I have gotten a sub for the class for two weeks. I'm going on vacation. While driving 17hours with three kids (and no husband) might not be what pops into mind when you say "vacation" that's what it is. We're going to visit my family for my parents 50th wedding anniversary. One woman frowned and said "you're not bringing your dog are you?" and she was happy to hear I wasn't. Another woman said "oh dearie, I hope you have a cordless cellular to take with you." And she was happy to hear I did. They are all excited for me to see my family and nervous for me to do the drive myself. Me? I feel just the opposite. The driving is the easy part.
It has been ten months since we've seen my parents...and brothers, and sisters, and nieces, and nephews, and friends. Did I mention I am the youngest of eleven? And of course now that we are all grown it is no longer "just" eleven. Nine of us are married, so that brings it up to 20...add in the 20 (+) offspring and you have 40...my parents are another 2. Suffices to say that no visit is long enough and to say it is emotionally difficult on me would only be scratching the surface. I refuse to accept the role as "that relative" who lives far away and you see once a year; but that is exactly who I am in the family now. Every time I visit, the family dynamics have changed a bit. I see how my sisters are second-mothers to each others' children and I realize that I don't know what that's like. While I am an exciting novelty to the littlest kids, I am not part of their enormous security blanket of aunts. And my own children need a day or two to warm up to the crowd of loud-talkers with this funny Boston accent who are sizing them up "she looks like so-and-so" and "her hair isn't like it looks in pictures!"
I do thank God every night for being blessed with a spot in this amazingly warm and loving (and LARGE) family, but I can't keep the sadness from swelling up in my throat when I have to go back to our life in a part of the country that my family will most-likely never see. As difficult as it is for me to only see everyone in a rushed, cranky, tired visit once a year, I am dreading the day my kids are older and less portable. The day when there are years between visits instead of months.
So I guess the 17hr drive may prove to be quite challenging, but I'm certain it won't be as difficult as adjusting and accepting this "distant relative" role I've found myself in.