My main memories of childhood was visiting my grandparents. Despite the long, nausea-inducing drive, with spectacular regularity my siblings and I would file into living rooms of the Babis and Zeidy, and dutifully kiss cheeks.
How happy they always were to see us. The language barrier was hefty, but it's all about body language. We sat quietly, cheerfully munching some deep-frozen kakosh while the adults chatted excitedly and laughed intermittently. I remember my Zeidy benching me before Rosh HaShana when I was five; even though I was so little I knew this moment, with his hands on my head, was precious.
Now, my nieces and nephews enter those same rooms with reverence and respect, even if they were having a tantrum right outside the door. I could never manage to successfully order any kinfauna to kiss me, but they seem to know, no matter how young, that for this elderly woman, lips must be puckered.
It gives me such joy to relate stories of the old world to my siblings' children, or even my own cousins, of their background, of the strength and experience that course through our shared veins. An appreciation for family and heritage doesn't just happen. It is instilled.
Frank Bruni decribes that active process in "Tolstoy and Miss Daisy":
He, my mother, my own grandparents and my aunts and uncles always taught my siblings and me to carve out space for family no matter what, to put relatives at the head of the line, to find gestures large and small by which you communicated that you cared and you never left that in doubt.
They methodically infused our get-togethers with a sense of occasion and an even more profound sense of gratitude, advertising and even amplifying their feelings about family as a way of bequeathing them. They wanted the compact that they’d established — the covenant that they’d built — to endure.
Tolstoy wasn’t on the mark. Not all happy families are alike. But all happy families — or, more accurately, all close ones — have this in common: Their bond is forged not by accident but by intent. They make a decision.
And their actions follow their resolve.
When I was growing up, my parents didn’t just take the four of us to see Grandma and Grandpa Bruni. They took us to see Grandma and Grandpa Bruni. The event had emotional italics; it was teased and promoted, like a new “Star Trek” movie.
Bruni himself is the beloved uncle. His teenage niece happily went on a road trip with her grandfather, and prioritized dinner with Uncle Frank even though she was also meeting a friend, saying it is more important.
Whenever I go on a date and the guy takes a cavalier or belittling view of family, I squirm, my eyes darting towards the exit signs. Of course family can be exasperating or tiresome, but the most important relationships aren't frustration-free. But shouldn't family always take precedence in our affections? There is a blood-bond there that will always exist, as opposed to any temporary friendships.
Children, as always, absorb the vibe their parents exude; if visiting grandparents are a drag, full of watch-glancing and sighing, guess what? That's how your kids and their kids will feel about visiting you one day. It's not about karma; that's simply the message offspring will get in their formative years.
Yay! I'm going to Babi's house!