Saturday, May 22, 2010

On family

Last weekend my dad, brother and I went to southern California to visit family. My granddad Mills is 90 years old and in declining health, so it was wonderful to get a chance to see him. We last visited for Christmas 2008, so a lot of things had changed.

We stayed at the home of my Aunt Rebecca and Uncle Richard, a house that seems to be the major gathering place during every visit. My two older cousins, Jason and Aaron, have families of their own, and their little ones run around the house like my brother and I used to just yesterday... or 20 years ago.

Jason and his family live in Fresno, so we didn't see them this time, but we fortunately saw a lot of Aaron, his wife Mindy and their beautiful girls, Riley (3) and Kaylyn (5 months).

Unfortunately, the youngest member of the Mills clan (Kaylyn) and the oldest (Granddad) haven't met yet, but that would make for a great photo.

I spent a bit of time looking at old photos with Rebecca one night. She had a bin full of them from the 50s, 60s and 70s, as well as letters that my grandmother, Jeanette Mills, had written to my great-grandmother, Emma Mae Gard. I saw lots of childhood and teen photos of my dad — super tall, skinny, always making a funny face — and pictures of my young grandparents that I had never seen before.

There was one photo in particular that I would love to have a copy of. It's a beautiful family portrait of my grandparents and their three boys taken in the early 1960s. My dad looks to be about 5 years old. My granddad is the spitting image of my brother today. My grandmother is stunning and sadly not the spitting image of me, since she was a 6-foot-tall pinup girl/Amazon.

I'd like to remember my grandparents that way — as part of that young, happy family. As my granddad said, these few years of bad health are so minute compared to the many years he's lived in good health. He survived two wars, and had three children, four grandchildren and now four great-grandchildren.

I got to thinking about families and what it means to have children. It's such an enormous task to take on. When you have kids, you're not just becoming a mother or father. You're making others into grandmothers and grandfathers, aunts and uncles, and even great-grandparents if you should be so lucky. You're creating a force of love bigger and stronger than yourself, a self-supporting clan built to endure whatever comes its way. And you spend your whole life pouring all of that love into your children.

I was thinking about this while I read a birth story by Kristen Frantz. She ended it with some powerful words about motherhood that grabbed ahold of my heart:
"What can I expect from becoming a mother? Disappointment. Frustration. Surprise. Joy. Love. Love. Love. Do I have what it takes? Sometimes yes, so much so that you will astound yourself. And sometimes no, this job will ask for more than you can give. What does it cost? All of you. And you will never regret it."

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