Thursday, July 16, 2009

Outer Circle

My little brother got married this last weekend. In Milwaukee. I didn't understand how emotional the week leading up to his wedding was for me, until we returned home.

To begin with, it was great. Not as many of our family was able to make it up for the wedding as hers was - how much of that was the politics of guest-list management, I don't know - but it was wonderful seeing the ones who were there. Most of my favorites were able to make it! One of my most favorite cousins J and her husband Geoff and their little girls, M and The Firecracker - not her real name, but I only use pseudonyms anyway, and this is accurate to her personality - traveled up from Texas. Likewise J's brother, my cousin, Max and his wife Kat, and my uncle Ted and aunt Cassie all came up from Texas. Three of my mom's four siblings came, as well as just one of my cousins from her side, R, and my grandparents made the trip as well. This was a particularly big undertaking as Grandpa is 90, rapidly physically declining, and I'm doubtful that he should ever get on an airplane again. However, I was thrilled and grateful to see him. We all caught up, hung out, laughed, etc, etc, etc. Well, mostly the fun stuff was with the cousins and family on Dad's side, and my cousin R, on Mom's side. I've never fully related to Mom's side of the family. I love them, I just find conversation falls flat after a few minutes.

Heading home - or "home" - after the wedding, I felt so happy to have seen everyone, but also like I'm missing out, and like I'm not sure where home is, or what it means. The lives of people I love most are happening without me and everyone gets to share in it, but me. This was most pronounced, for me, when I considered how well my extended family knows my new sister-in-law, and she them, and how very little I know of her. Their wedding was only the 6th time I'd met her. Considering that you really don't get to see or spend quality time with the couple during the wedding mayhem, I've really only met her 5 times. And of those 5 times, 3 were brief dinner situations. We've never really talked in-depth about anything, never hung out. She's just been, for the last 3 years, either my brother's girlfriend, like so many others, or his fiancee.

When the videographer pulled Honey and me aside at the reception to say something for the couple - well, actually, we pulled him aside; he'd already packed up, thinking he'd gotten all the "importants" (of course, having to seek him out, instead of the other way around, contributed to feeling outside the gang, but, whatever) - I realized everything I wanted to say was to my brother. I really don't know my sister-in-law well enough to congratulate her with some personal tidbit. I just said something generic about her being smarter than him, which is true, but not really catered or specific to her personality or history. During her sister's toast (the matron of honor), she recounted a story about how one of my brother's jokes helped her cope with her baby daughter's Down Syndrome diagnosis, after she'd been depressed for weeks. God, I thought, her sister already has a strong fondness for him, and I'm relatively indifferent toward her. What's wrong, here? In the three years they've been together, she's gone with him to several family events throughout Texas. The Firecraker, J's daughter is 19 months old, and I'd only just met her this past weekend. My sister-in-law, whom I'll call Balance - since she balances Bro's personaltiy pretty well - had met her several times. Balance knows M pretty well, too. And as Bro and Balance live about a mile from Max and Kat, they hang out all the time, as they do frequently enough with my parents, who also live in the same metropolis. I don't know how many times Bro has met her family. I know he spent last Christmas with them and maybe a few extended weekends, as well. But they instantly love him, instantly connected with him, and her little brother and older sister seem keen on, and comfortable with him.

So, here I am: out on the East Coast, missing out my dear little cousins M and The Firecracker growing up; missing out family get-togethers over Easter or birthdays or whatever; missing out on finding out who the hell this person is that my brother just married who everyone seems to enjoy so well. In the meantime M adores my mom as if she were her own grandmother, and Max and Kat bug Bro for more cookouts, knowing they could just crash his house if they felt like it. Honey and I know we want to move west again. Texas is on the short list, as is the Pacific Northwest, and we're open to other, as yet unconsidered, places west of the Mississippi if they seem right for us. However, even if we moved back to Texas, there is, of course, no guarantee we'd see family all the time. (Not that I'd even want to.) On top of that, Bro and Balance have talked enough about moving to Milwaukee sometime in the future that even if we did move to Texas, it's highly possible that they'd move out and I'd still never get to know this woman, or worse, miss out on the lives of nieces and nephews as they grow up. (Honey is certain they're going to jump on that train within a year. I'm not as certain.) Plus, I don't want to be that spouse who demands we live near my family, as if mine is the only one that counts. My aunt - the only of my mom's siblings who doesn't live in Texas - followed that demand of her husband's and she's never been quite happy with it, feeling left behind as her family moves on.

I now really want to talk with my pre-existing sister-in-law, Honey's sister, about how the transition was for her, to me. I loved Honey's sister immediately. Sometimes, I feel like she could be my "for real" sister. Bro accepted Honey immediately - though, in honesty, as we met in Texas, they had more time to get to know eachother than Balance and I have. Honey didn't have the luxury at all of getting to know his older brother in law. His sister eloped while living overseas, so their first meeting came months after they were family. I have to imagine that was really weird and alienating for Honey. I've never heard any friends of mine talk about feeling alienated or missing out on knowing who their in-laws are. I don't know if that's because people just don't talk about it; if my friends actually know their in-laws before hand; or if it's because many of my friends are babies of their families and the dynamic of an elder sibling relationship is different. I strongly suspect that part of my sadness at not knowing Balance comes from my being the elder sibling. I'm protective, by nature, of those I love and always want to sniff out their mates. Stands to reason, then, that though I like Balance, I feel like I haven't had the chance to fully assess her for the person I've felt most protective of my whole life.

I don't know her, and the rest of my family is going on without me. I'll let go, eventually. But for now, I'm just feeling left out.

4 comments:

Virginia Gal said...

First congrad's to your brother - please convey my best wishes to him! I hope to head down the aisle next (please God!).

Second your post brings up an interesting point that lately I've been thinking. This is something very distinctly Western I think, not having all the family together and I think our ancestors did it cause they were tired of being around the family all the time, but now we are going back, full circle to that time, no?

mommanator said...

WHEN I FIRST MARRIED I LIVED NEAR THE INLAWS AND I WAS CALLED THE OUTLAW & MY HUBBIES SISTERS HUBBY WAS AN INLAW. NEEDLESS TO SAY I DID NOT FEEL WELCOMED!
WE LIVED NEAR THEM FRO ABOUT 2YRS AND HUBBY CAME HOME ONE DAY AND SAID YA WANT TO MOVE BACK EAST. i DID IN THE WORST WAY, BUT I TOLD HIM HE HAD TO MAKE THE DECISION AS I SISNT WANT MY INLAWS TO BLAME ME FOR TAKING THEIR SON.
IN THE END IT ALL WORKED OUT, BUT WAS SURE HARD IN THE BEGINNING. THANKFULLY I WAS MARRIED TO A GREAT GUY!

Darla D said...

Oh, Molly - I understand how you feel. It was much the same for me, since I haven't lived near my brother since college, and have lived all over the place since then. I always liked my sister-in-law, but as you say, it's hard to really get to know someone when you live far from each other. But you have a whole lifetime of opportunity to get to know her better! Now is just the beginning. For the past few years, my brother & his family and our family have been vacationing toegther, and it's been great - both for getting to know his wife better, but also their kids - and for our kids to grow up as cousins with a nice strong bond of shared experience. No matter where they live, if you (and they) are committed, you will find a way to feel close.

secret agent woman said...

Sibling dynamics are an interesting thing, and often in flux. There will be closer times and moving apart times. It's hard to be in one of the more distant phases of the relationship. I hope time and circumstances gove you a chance to get to know the new SIL and be closer to your brother in his new life.