Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Extending Extended Family

As a young woman growing up in Salt Lake City, behind the Zion curtain, I always planned on having one husband and several children. It never ocurred to me that it might be the other way around. I've had one husband die, one marriage die, and one husband live to tell about it.

One day years ago stepson Christopher stayed home from school sick. Not sure how "sick" he really was, I told him he was missing history class and made him watch Gone With the Wind with me. That was when it hit me: I'd been married as many times as Scarlett O'Hara.

Although inheriting Thom's five children has given me the large family I always wanted to have, I only gave birth to one child. To provide Scott with close sibling-like relationships, my nieces and nephews became an important part of our lives. For that matter, prior to that, before I married, my older brother's two daughters were my substitute children, and once I married, I still continued to maintain close relationships with them and any new nieces or nephews that came along.

Jessica and Alisa were such adorable little girls. I have so many memories of funny and cute things they did. I remember the time Jessica emptied an entire huge bag of Puffed Rice in the living room, waving the bag and laughing hysterically as the cereal blanketed the floor. (It is amazing how much damage a little one can do in the few short seconds it takes for a parent to get to them from across the room .) I used to carry a bottle of bubble blowing solution in my purse, a cheap way to entertain the kiddos. One Sunday as I sat in church holding little Alisa, she reached into my purse. "Bubbles, Aunt Susan," she pleaded. Shaking my head, I couldn't help but giggle inwardly as I imagined bubbles wafting Lawrence-Welk-like* through the chapel during the meeting.

Jessica has always kept copies of my poems and writings, and she had a copy of a poem I wrote called Jumper Cables, about giving people a jump when they are down. I still have somewhere a pair of cardboard and fabric "heart-to-heart jumper cables" Jessica and Alisa made for me when I found myself once again a single parent at the age of 40. Jessica is now the mother of four and teaches parenting classes and has always been one of the most organized people I know. Alisa has a baby boy. A couple of years ago she and her husband, Glenn, came over to our island for a visit, and we had a fun couple of days together.

When my sister-in-law, Sherstin, was expecting the twins, I picked up preschoolers Evan and Sterling every day after school for several weeks so that she could stay down. It was on one of those visits that we decided to make cookies. I had taught my son Scott how to crack an egg against the counter and then hand it to me to break and put into the cookie batter. I asked Evan if he knew how to crack an egg. Smiling proudly, he said he did. Then he took the egg and smashed it down on the countertop. Then, unsure that was what I had in mind, he looked at me warily, waiting to see if I was going to yell at him for making a mess, perhaps. So I picked out the shells and scraped the remainder of the egg into the batter. Good memories! Now Evan is one the verge of becoming a lawyer, and has a beautiful little family.

Sterling, who was about three when I moved to Florida, just added a little girl, Maylee, to his family--a baby sister for adorable Graham. I have a memory of Sterling eating a bowl of ice cream, and one of his twin sisters asking for a bite and Sterling saying "It's all gone" before taking another bite. Somewhere around here I think we've got that on video.

Even though I moved away just after my niece Lindsay was born, I told myself I would find a way to stay close to my nieces and nephews despite the distance. Lindsay is a newlywed. When she was in elementary school, she used to send me copies of little stories she had written. Now she has a journalism degree and when I need someone to understand why I don't like a certain book, I know I can count on her to understand.

One of the things I have done is bring each of them over for a visit when they graduate high school. I hosted Jessica, Evan and Alisa in Florida and had memorable visits to Disney World with them. Sabrina and Elaina, the twins, came over to Hawaii, and we had many adventures. I remember them on their cell phones telling friends back in cold Idaho that they were watching a movie on the beach at Waikiki. And I especially remember the one where the two experienced kayakers, myself and stepson Rob, tanked while trying to show them how it was done. Now Sabrina is a new mother and Elaina is expecting, which means all those good lines I came up with for her to feed to those enquiring after her reproductive status will now go unused. Dang!

Lindsay and Randall have both been over for a visit, as well. I just got back from attending Randall's wedding. I still remember the first time I met him, a little blond guy hanging out the window of the truck at Bear Lake. Every time I would try to get him to say me name, he would say "tractor," just to tease me. So I became "Aunt Tractor." Lauren is next on the docket for a trip, arriving this coming week. I've watched her go from a shy child afraid to give a talk in Primary to a confident young woman and runner up in the local Junior Miss pageant. We've got a couple of more years before Reggie graduates, and I'm looking forward to getting know my youngest nephew better. The only one I missed was Sterling, because we couldn't quite match up schedules and then he went on a mission and got married. Maybe someday, Sterling, we'll get you over here.

I am grateful for all the ways these extended-children of mine have blessed my life. I am grateful to my brothers and sisters-in-law for raising such awesome kids, each of whom have been a bright spot in my life.

*ask your grandparents

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