When I was growing up I observed that there seemed to be themes to families. There was the family who were the jocks. Every one of the kids, and the parents were amazing athletes. The parents were doing triathlons for fun. Each of the kids had their sport that they were the MVP of. Their weekend nights revolved around athletic competitions that they either starred in, coached, cheered, or watched on TV. You could not converse with them without being fluent in jock lingo. And so, we didn't converse much with this family.
Another family was bilingual. They were speaking in Spanish, listening to Spanish music, taking trips to Argentina or Mexico, schooling their kids in Spanish immersion, and constantly feeling cosmopolitan in our little homogeneous town. The thing that made this really cool is that this family looked like Aryan nation. With their blonde hair and blue eyes, they were the last group of people you'd peg for those living like they were south of the border. If you wanted to really fit in with this family, you had to speak the lingo of espanol, or you were kind of left out of their world.
One family was musical. Every kid played a different instrument. Every morning before school, their walls would ring with a half a dozen kids practicing for what seemed like the Rose Bowl half time show. As soon as their kids could hold a fork, they were also holding a violin bow, or a flute, or some other instrument that would become like a second appendage to them. Any time there was a talent show, or a community event, or a church road show, you knew that this family would be performing in some combination. If you too were musically inclined, you could hang with this family. Otherwise, if the closest you came to musical culture was sitting down to watch an episode of the Partridge Family, you were hosed.
Some families were FUN. These families were the ones I really envied. One of my best friends growing up came from a family like this. The parents played Texas Hold Em Poker and Bunco with their friend groups on a weekly basis. They owned a boat that they took to Lake Powell the same weeks every summer. They had movie nights, and game nights, and craft nights. They had season passes to water parks, and national parks, and sporting teams. Their house always had good junk food, and the most recent movie rentals. Sleep overs were abundant at this house, and laughter was plentiful. You thanked your lucky stars when you were invited to hang out with this family.
There were the families that had a lot of kids. That was their thing. There was always a new baby, diapers in the pail, someone getting potty trained, a foster kid to take in, a family reunion to plan. The family's identity was that it was going to be the biggest, most peopled family of all the families.
Some families traveled. Some families were academics. Some families were righteous to the point of seeming fundamental in their mormon religious beliefs. My family didn't really have "a thing", a group, a groove. We were a "broken family". One of the few in Orem at that time. My Mom worked full time. My Dad was inactive in the LDS church. We were latch key kids who watched a lot of TV and could sing the theme song from any Nick At Night show that was running. We ate a lot of pizza. We hung out at the mall a lot where my Mom worked. We spent every other weekend with my Dad across town in his rental home. We liked to pretend we had "a thing". We went camping with my Dad in the summers. We did some service with him which we royally dreaded. We traveled with him to Mexico and Hawaii. He tried to introduce us to oldies rock, tennis, surfing, and the things that were HIS thing. But we kids resisted. These things were not "normal" in our neck of the woods in Orem, Utah.
People didn't care that you'd been driving up the coast over the summer to the San Juan Islands in your dad's van, eating peanut butter and honey sandwiches at rest stops along the way, so that you could kayak and hike once you got there. All that my brother and sister and I dreamed about doing the entire time was visiting Disney Land or attending dance camps where you got to apply fake eye lashes and wear hair extensions as you convulsed in sync with other dolled up pre pubescent smiling children.
So it is that now that I have a family, I realize that I subconsciously have been trying to create "a thing" for my crew. And my small man's disease over not having grown up in a family with it's special niche, has made me overcompensate. We aren't going to just be the family that speaks Spanish, we'll also be the family that plays sports. And why just play instruments, when we can also be the family that skis? We need to be the fun family, but we also should be the academics whose kids are being stimulated by a variety of interests. We should be the family that travels, and the family that serves so that we are well-rounded.
I have to admit that it's like manna to my soul- having these things that we share, and excel in and do together. But have I gone overboard? I mean, the kids still watch hours of cartoons every weekend morning. They still have playdates. They still have time to explore the neighborhood and just be.
So, am I doing my son a favor in having him taking guitar lessons and Spanish lessons twice a week, and playing lacrosse twice a week with a game on the weekends, and playing indoor futsal when lacrosse isn't in season, and participating in the after school chess club, and taking art lessons on Saturdays, and skiing every weekend with our family? I did ask him if he wanted to quit lacrosse and he acted like I'd asked if he wanted to chop his arm off his body. He did recommend quitting Spanish lessons, but I told him that if he was doing the fun sports that he enjoyed, the Spanish was non negotiable. I also like the Spanish lessons because he does them with his little sister. It's their thing that they can do together. And what's better for sibling bonding than getting to share in the moaning over the torturous things that your Mother made you do?
Shelby's schedule is similar to Dalton's. She takes tennis once a week, and does the Spanish twice a week. She does break dancing with her friend one day and art with another friend on another day. She does soccer once a week with a game on the weekends during soccer season. She skis with us on the weekends, and does girl scouts every other week. She doesn't have an instrument yet, but we were going to have her start one in the fall.
The thing about the kids is that during the school year when there are breaks, like this up coming Spring Break, they will be vegging big time. Our TV will be on A LOT. And maybe there is something in me that is subconscious, but I can not stand having that thing on for more than two hours. I can almost picture their brains rotting out of their heads and running out of their ears.
There was a family growing up, where their thing was board games. They had a big closet and you could pick out a board game, when ever you were bored. We have a chest of drawers in our front room, that is stocked full of board games, and art supplies, and play dough, and beads. I try do those with the kids when the temptation is to turn on the TV.
One thing I would love to do more of is READ. As a latch key kid, along with a great sense of independence and self assurance, I also developed a great love of books. They transported me. I lost myself in them and their characters. So, that is something to aim for. More down time. More time getting lost in a book.
And while I am not losing sleep about becoming the Tiger Mother, I will try to strive for balance. And more important than our family having "a thing" is our family being a cohesive unit that loves and respects each other. Maybe that will be "our thing"- that we cheer each other on and root for each other, regardless of what we do.
I should make clear that when I say that I came from a "broken home" I say that not because we were broken, but because that is how we were viewed, and thus how I perceived our situation.
Looking back now, I don't think we were broken. I actually think we were quite genuine. But back then it was rare to have a family in my neighborhood that was divorced. It didn't help, as I mentioned, that my Dad was not active in the LDS church. This made for awkward pairings for me and my siblings at church Father-Son activities, Father-Daughter dates, and all other family activities where the model of perfection that was on display was the Mother-Father model, with no consideration of those families who fell outside the norm. So it was that my creepy neighbor, or my old Grandpa, or my funny uncle, was our "fill-in-dad"
I am convinced that if I was operating under the same situation that mother did- little money, working full-time, three young kids, always in the Young Women's Presidency, living in her parent's duplex, dating, and trying to keep a house, there is a very good possibility that my kids would need to be taken from me by Social Services. So to her, I am very grateful. I just wish that we knew then, what we know now- that your "thing" doesn't make you a family, any more than having a Mother and a Father living together in the same home does.
What makes you a family is caring for the people in it, and being there for them when they need you. Some of the families that I envied the most as a child, now with perspective, are the families that I am most grateful that I did not grow up in. Families where the kids felt invisible, or harshly judged, or unloved. I mean who cares if your family looks and sounds like the Von Trapps if your Dad is a jerk and your Mom has locked herself in the bathroom to pop some pills. There are a million different ways to be a family, and I am grateful for the one that I was raised in, and the one that I am lucky to have now.