We grow apart. With the return of migratory birds, often our families flock back for visits during the warm month too. Most of our loved ones live a jet’s distance away throughout the United States. Some near relatives live in foreign countries as far away as Germany, like mine. And when people hit a certain age, routine takes the forefront.
Raised in Bavaria, I moved to Alaska in 1988 at the young age of 25, seeking adventure.
That’s what we do when young. We seek our happiness, often somewhere else.
Then, especially with the first grandbaby, the extended visits come after long spells of absence, phone calls, and I miss you so much.
The phrase: “Family and friends smell like fish after three days” is not far from true.
I have experienced this many times. Not just with family but good friends just the same.
For example, it is not worth the trouble to spend three days traveling from the other side of the globe for my relatives. So we deal with the situation as best we can. Usually my world turns from somewhat quiet and controlled to a noise-filled house, with endless cooking and dishes, and someone always sitting in my favorite recliner. A barrage of questions and long-forgotten character differences clash us together with an emotional roller coaster of feelings from the past. It will have been a turbulent but worthwhile visit when my family leaves.
The routine is predictable from the start. There are four seasons. We tenderfoot around each other for a couple of days, probe and are ecstatic about our company. Then comes season two (the next couple of days), someone stepped on someone’s toes, and some hefty discussions, even a little fighting is possible. We all have to re-establish our much-needed boundaries. I get so angry with what spouts out of my mom’s mouth at times. We are from different solar systems. I even read books about patience so I don’t just blow up into her face.
Then comes season three, where all is good again. Now we can enjoy each other, be together and show love for a super short time in our lives. We know subjects to evade, feelings to honor. This is not easy. It is very hard and takes effort and courage.
Season four is when everybody feels like time went way too fast again, and we will separate.
Having said all this, I would reluctantly put my folks into a hotel room or B&B.
My kids get displaced to sleep on foam pads in the TV room or couches during Christmas and Nana gets their bed for a few nights.
I cringe when I hear my friends say, often with a strangely hurt face: Oh, my parents sleep in a hotel room. We all need our space at night.
Have we unlearned compassion and forgotten how to be patient and honest in a polite way with each other, accepting our differences? My mother and I are so different. At times I wonder how I can even be from the same family. Then I have had my best conversations late at night, when the house is quiet, kids in bed, and it just happens that mom and I are talking, snuggling on the couch in the dark with a glass of wine. Coffee is brewing in the morning, and Mom already had a great time hanging around in my private world, studying my photos on the wall. She feels welcome here. I would not want to miss this.
I know that people often don’t have space for the elderly to sleep well, or kids need to function in school and need perfect sleep. Parents feel the need to escape somewhere themselves, loving privacy and their hot bath uninterrupted.
I am questioning: Could we make do at times, try harder to be flexible, and shower the people we love with love for a short time in our short lifetime?
There is a hitch to all my probing though. I draw my line at 12 days for family; friends know beforehand that seven days is all I will enjoy. Part of the boldness of honesty is to dish out the truth and not regret hiding wishes. So I let people stay short enough but long enough in my space, my home. Just perfect timing for everyone involved to touch base again and feel appreciated for what we all are. Timed perfectly, before anyone might smell a fish.
Anette Coggins has lived in Alaska since 1988 and for the most part been gold mining near Nome with her husband and kids in the summer. She is currently working on her first nonfiction book, “The Land of the Big Dipper, Alaska,” due to be published by next spring.