It seemed like last week I was bringing my daughter to Arizona State University for orientation, and then my husband and I were moving her (in 110 degree heat) into her freshman dorm at Palo Verde East.
Then I guess I must have blinked a couple of times because this past weekend she graduated.
It’s a proud moment in a parent’s life, one which, unlike colic, tantrums and teenage angst, you actually dream about from the time your child is born. These are also times where you picture yourself surrounded by family and friends who have known your little one since, well…since she was little.
But for those of us who’ve moved far from those family and friends, sometimes these special days can be a little lonely. If our loved ones are unable to make the long trip due to age, finances or busy schedules, we might find ourselves looking for others to fill in the roles of matriarch or mentor to our kids. After all, it takes a village as they say. And raising kids without any extended family around can be a special challenge.
I remember two or three years after we moved here and both our daughters were playing in a piano recital. While not exactly a graduation, it is still one of those times you’d like to have someone besides yourself there to applaud. And we had no family here yet. So their second grade and fifth grade teachers generously took time out of a precious Sunday to come and cheer them on. It was a kindness so touching and one I will never forget.
When our first family moved out soon afterwards and began what I like to call the Italian version of the trail of tears (not because my relatives moved against their will, but because they’re just emotional people who cry a lot), my niece Tracy and her husband Jeff attended EVERY school function in which our kids participated. I like to think it’s because they are so supportive and not just because they didn’t have any friends of their own yet.
In the years between our orphaned status and our current one as the largest extended family in Arizona, any time any relation was out here for a trip, we dragged them to whatever game, awards ceremony or event was taking place during their visit. But when no one was here, First Communions, birthdays and other days of note were attended by friends who became surrogate family. And usually my mother, who could always be counted on to fly out as often as possible.
However, by the time our older daughter made her Confirmation, most of our current clan had established their Arizona residency. As I looked down at my family jostling for position in a long church pew bursting at the seams, and realized that none of them had to fly in to attend the service but only drive a few short blocks, I felt a surge of satisfaction that we had transformed blissful Arizona in a “little New Jersey”. At that moment the only state I was aware of was my state of Nirvana.
And by the time she graduated high school, I was scrounging for extra tickets from other families who tended to gather on a smaller scale.
At a recent family baby shower, a friend asked Tracy if she’d like someone to take a group picture, assuming that all the women in the family being together was a rare event and a photo op. To which Tracy replied, “You can take a picture, but we were all just together on Good Friday. And will be again on Mother’s Day. It’s a common occurrence.”
So yeah, I think we’re lucky. I know not all transplants have the experience of their family joining them here. (And truth be told, not all of them want it.) But if you’re a newcomer missing your family, be reassured to know that because there are so many of us, transplants tend to bond pretty quickly and easily and can become a tightly knit group.
And you can tell your family to save their visits here for the really big days, the important ones you want to share. Know that everyone cannot come for everything. We still have holdouts who have never visited in 14 years.
I am counting on them to come to the weddings.
And as for that fifth grade teacher who came to the dance recital? Well, Mrs. Hauptman is one of the special ones that stood out the most in my daughter Christina’s academic life, and inspired her to become a teacher herself. So it’s all good.
Also while we’re on the subject, please indulge me while I say…congratulations Christina! You did it! (And so did we!)
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