Mom Weekend was extra super fun, I am happy to report. We did a lot of shopping (I am neither confirming nor denying the purchase of a potential Perfect Pants contender) and a lot of eating and a lot of talking. We were emphatically rained upon when we went to the Snoqualmie waterfall and we read books and watched a movie and went to Trader Joe’s and to the Sunday Market with John and Treasa. We spent a lot of time talking comfortably and just hanging out. It was great.
Monday I went into work for four or so hours and then Mom and I went to the zoo. My cousin Jereme was driving up from Portland to meet us there with his two little girls. The last time I saw Jereme was about eleven years ago when my mom’s whole family got together in rural Michigan for a family reunion. I think it was the last summer I spent in Miami during college and I pitched a fit about going to it. (I think there was a party I really, really wanted to go to, God, no one even cares what I want!) I didn’t feel like I had anything in common with that part of my family and I just didn’t see the point.
That turned out to be a pretty good weekend, if I recall correctly. All the cousins except one made it there and we spent the weekend in a lake house swimming and playing board games (everyone else) and experimenting, fashion-wise, with the concept of chest-high waders (me). It was a little weird to see people I don’t normally see and to think that they weren’t a random bunch of strangers, but it was okay. I remember spending quite a bit of time with Jereme and his brother Justin in a hammock, I think. My grandmother didn’t have dementia at the time and was bright and funny and wry, and it was just generally a fine weekend and it turns out that I could care less, now, about that party I wanted to go to that I heard wasn’t even that great anyway.
Since then, nothing. I knew that Jereme’d been married and a father and divorced and in the Navy but that was about it. I’d hear about him the way I heard about my other cousins, through my mom whenever she called one of her siblings. But I recognized him at the zoo anyway, right by the bears where he’d said he’d be with the two cutest little girls the land has ever seen.
Alyssa and Mariko reminded me a lot of my sister and I when we were little…Alyssa is super talkative and a little bossy towards her little sister, just like I was, and Riko has the same sort of goofiness that Beck did then and does now. They weren’t shy at all and immediately grabbed my hands and dragged me off to look at the big bears and tell me about the big bears and introduce me to their Easter bunnies (named, respectively, awesomelu, Jenna and Jennie) and hope that the big bears didn’t eat them. I yelled “Hey, Jereme, long time no see!” over my shoulder as they dragged me off to feed the birds and then we all had a very interesting conversation about vampire bats on the way to my absolute favorite zoo exhibit ever, the Day And Night. Alyssa is studying Sumatra and Indonesia in school right now and it turns out she was the lead in a play (“I had nine lines but all the other kids only had eight”) and we talked about that too and she read all the signs for me because reading is her favorite thing. They called me Auntie Chiara and I reflected that as fun as going to the zoo with adults is, going with smart and funny little girls (that are your second cousins!) is even better.
We drove down to my other cousin David’s house for dinner and that was even more fun because David was all maple-braising greens and searing duck breasts and popping a cunning little potato-parsnip-pear gratin into the oven when we got there. We gave the girls an Easter basket when we got there but they were much more interested in dismantling Cousin David’s extensive set of Star Wars Legos…when their dad saw what they’d done, he shrugged his shoulders and said, “Well, put them back together then” and what do you know, they did, having whispered arguments about the most aerodynamic position for R2D2 to be in and whether the ships would still fly if you put the wings on backwards.
It was just very easy and fun and cool. Both my cousins love my mom and she sat and talked to them about children and relationships and then the three of us stood in the kitchen bitching about ridiculous people we’d dated and how everyone in the world is pretty much crazy, at least the people to whom we are attracted. Is this a family thing? Is this a late-twenties-early-thirties single thing? Jereme talked a little about how he, unlike most of my mom’s other relatives, has actually met my father, and how he spent a week with us in Marin one summer. He remembered my dad’s dog Bear and how we’d go to the Russian River every day and I couldn’t believe someone else shared those sort of blurry memories with me.
David and Jereme and I don’t look alike at all…in fact I don’t even think my mother and I look alike at all. You wouldn’t know we had anything in common just by looking at us. But there we all were, laughing and talking and it was different somehow from doing the very same thing with friends. I can’t explain it. I guess I don’t know enough about being part of a family to understand it very well. I absolutely do not buy into the whole Italian thing of believing that family are the only important relationships in life, that you can’t trust anyone to whom you’re un-related. I’ve spent all my adult life away from any sort of blood relatives at all and don’t, in general, feel any worse for wear as a result. But. Still. I wondered, a little, about what I’ve missed out on, not growing up near them. By the end of the night I’d invited Jereme to my has-yet-to-be-conceived going-away party in July and David was all “Oh, me and Chiara are going to drive down and party with you in Portland!” and we were promising the little girls that we’d send them things and see them all very soon. I wondered what it would be like to see them again, my cousins and aunts and uncles and everyone else, to see them more than once, maybe, and see if I have anything in common with them besides some genetic material.
Driving Mom to the airport to catch her red-eye was already a little hard because we’d had such a good weekend together, as we always do, and because it’s just hard, period. My heart hurt a little on that drive, thinking about my awesome relations and about the wonderful little girls and about the way we unknowingly isolate ourselves, maybe, from people whom we could love and who could love us if we just knew them a little better, maybe, if we just had the chance to get to know them. That I’m just getting to know this part of my family three months before I leave the country makes it hurt just that much more.