Thank you, my new family, for accepting me this way

We sat more than a week back in the living room of our Little Bitty in the Syracuse neighborhood of Eastwood, comfortable in our usual evening hang-out positions of couch and recliner, when my dear wife Karen dropped this one on me.

What did I discover about her those precious days we spent in Colorado for her first Family Reunion?

Our family gang, off the jeep and on the tour in the park.  (Photo by guide Neil, from our group Facebook page)

Our family gang, off the jeep and on the tour in the park. (Photo by guide Neil, from our group Facebook page)

Well, now, beloved, it sure was my privilege and pleasure to watch you operate with two sisters, two brothers, four nieces, two nephews, a great-niece and a cousin, your people who came to Estes Park from Alaska and California and Oregon and Washington and Texas and Arkansas and Arizona. And throw in your sister-in-law, nephew-in-law and cousin’s boyfriend, too, as well as our traveling companions daughter Elisabeth and boyfriend George Three, to give a robust total of 19, though we figured out that the most we had together at one time was 15 because of staggered arrivals and departures from the Thursday to Tuesday event.

You’re much better in your family circle, in fact, than you led me to believe in our dozen years together. As I watched you settle into a rhythm with siblings Lynne and Jana, and Steve and Scott, it was indeed, as niece Stormy exclaimed so vehemently from the couch that night that all five siblings and the cousins gathered in our blue cottage, hard to believe that the last time all of you were in one place was 1986. I listened while older brother Steve and oldest sister Jana discussed how things were in that house in LA before Caroline and Bob separated and Scott denied anything the rest of you threw out there about middle child syndrome, really, and youngest Lynne contrasted how things were when she was living alone with your mom in San Diego after the rest of you were out living your own lives.

You all did this with little stories and easy grace, tales about Roman Meal bread and lima beans, 50 cents paid to spy on a sister — denied by Scott to Lynne about you, quickly, as Steve and Jana chuckled and I could not judge the if-so’s.

Oh, how I was impressed by all of it these days, as we met for hikes and jeep tours and drives up the mountain in our cars and meals. Oh, the big meals we ate together at various joints. All of it was punctuated by conversation that winged its way across the tables and generations.

I did more than listen, of course. You know me, my dear wife.

Outside the jeep: Dacia, Kimi, Jana, Stormy, Lynne, Karen, Mark, Elisabeth, Drew and George. (Photo by a fellow passenger)

Outside the jeep: Dacia, Kimi, Jana, Stormy, Lynne, Karen, Mark, Elisabeth, Drew and George. (Photo by a fellow passenger)

So I asked questions, and learned about Steve’s job with the city as a tax assessor in Salem, Oregon and Scott’s with the Army Corps of Engineers in Sacramento, Calif., and Lynne’s move from Arkansas to Corpus Christi, Texas, to work in new company with husband Chuck, and Jana’s place as a marriage counselor up there in Wasila, where Sarah Palin sure did change after she become swooped up by the American public and national politics.

My nieces and nephews did not escape my focus.

I quizzed Stormy about her husband and her Native American looks, because she has a different dad than sister Kimi, whom I grilled about her longtime boyfriend. When Lynne jumped in that the guy already is father-approved by Chuck, I continued because, well, an uncle should be interested in this, too.

I asked Dacia about her big job at the animal clinic up there, and listened as she spoke of her boyfriend nearly husband and his children. I questioned Drew about his chase for that engineering degree, as well as that so-obvious scar on the top of his noggin’, and listened in horror as he described how the allure of excitement while he lived in Utah and attended school his first go-round led to him falling off the back of a pick-up truck traveling at 40 mph.

I quizzed Ross about which medical schools he was waiting to hear from in his application process in his quest to follow his older sister Flynne, who so recently completed her residency despite the birth of their beautiful daughter Lainie to she and her teacher husband Jordan. Ross’ first choice is the in-state University of Washington, he explained, because tuition is $20,000 a year less than the others on his list, and that’s where he lives now while he works as a nurse assistant.

I chatted more briefly with Flynne and Jordan at our group dinner and hike around Sprague Lake during their short stay, but I sure did love watching Lainie dance across that little stream with dad holding her hand at the end of our walk.

Steve’s wife, my sister-in-law Joan, warmly filled me ear about her and Flynne’s trip to Poland, describing the beauty of the cities and the people of our shared ancestry. No, she answered to my query, the food there was not quite like the Polish we like here in the States.

They all seemed interesting and interested, and I loved watching Elisabeth and George fit right in, too, telling their own stories.

I heard other things along the way, but I won’t repeat them here. Because, you know, family.

So I learned that you indeed come from very good people, Karen.

The question, then, is: What did I learn about myself?

Families, you know, aren’t the easiest for me. Not until I met you a dozen years ago, I’d say, and then Elisabeth grew into the smart, beautiful and confident woman she is, can I say that I’ve been completely comfortable with my daily standing.

Those that have it all, the figurative white picket fences with the grandparents on one side and the parents on the other and the aunts and uncles completing the cul de sac … well, I’ve seen something like that in action, and more glory to them for being so happily entangled 24-7.

As for me, my youth was marked by a parental mismatch, as much discord as good times, grandparents that stayed in Brooklyn after my father took us out to the leafy burbs of Long Island in search of something elusive, better, the dream that I bought into. All by myself, was my preference …

I fled to upstate New York to college, forged my own life and moved to Maryland, loved my sisters from afar, waited until 30 and a return to upstate to marry, had my daughter at 32 and kept thinking that dream was tied to what I produced at the job, then divorced when she was 9 …

Yeah. Norman Rockwell hung on someone else’s walls.

Click on any gallery photo for a description. Click on the right photo for an enlarged slide show.

So maybe I didn’t now how to act properly every step of the way with all this warmth around me. That night outside Dave’s Smokin’ Bar-B-Que, when we were deciding how many cars to take up the mountain, and Steve was thinking that maybe Scott would drive his own to make it three, and I got a little short and declared too loudly about how confounding this was …

With Steve, yet, like me the oldest brother in the family, whom I’d walked with side-by-side just earlier that day pouring out frustrations about job searching because he’d gone through a similar layoff from his longtime employer and career reinvention, and he was full of empathy and compassion and good advice.

Elisabeth set me straight afterward. What did it matter, two cars or three? See, smart kid.

Sorry, bro.

So this warm embrace from family members I just met from far and wide is nice. Very nice, indeed.

Talk was on about another edition two years from now. And the next two years from then.

Sis Jana wanted photos, so I emailed her a batch. She answered her thanks with this little note: “Good morning BIL!! Thank you so much for sending the photos. Treasures all. It was a pleasure meeting you, Elisabeth and George III! My heart is full knowing my sister is married to such a wonderful, loving man.”

Oh, the pleasure is mine, Jana. Truly.

What do you get right about your family? What are the most puzzling things to you about your family? Do you live close by to your family or far away, which would you prefer, and why?

83 thoughts on “Thank you, my new family, for accepting me this way

  1. This is one of those photo essays that just says it all about family. And you will be so glad you wrote and saved years along this life. What a gift to experience Mark. May your family live long and prosper always. All my best to you. Thank you.

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  2. Aw, this is a really nice piece. I’m glad the reunion is going to happen regularly in the future. My crazy clan can only manage about every 7 years or so. I have been fortunate with regard to the I laws too. My ex husbands family hated me so being embraced by this one -especially the big Camp Meeting reunions is a welcome change.

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  3. I love the whole family photographs which are awesome. These photos are indeed “priceless” which I realize is overused but hopefully you know I save this for appropriate moments.
    May I say this? They would be crazy not to love you and your daughter plus her love, George!!
    Sometimes e erything falls perfectly into place like a beautiful jigsaw puzzle. I like Norman Rockwell and see how this description fits this recent reunion. Lots of fun, love β™‘ and memories made and kept at this recent reunion. Wonderful!

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    • Thank you, Robin, for the compliment that you save for only the truly special times. I appreciate it very much. Meeting the new side of my family at last is worth so much. Yes. Those photos are priceless. ❀

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  4. Mark … I’m glad that you and Karen had a good time catching up with her family and enjoyed the beautiful nature spots of Colorado. When it’s good, there’s nothing like it. It sounds like you’ve made the connection you’d been hoping for since you were a kid. Good people. Great times. πŸ˜‰

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Oh you made my cry, Mark! You state, “So maybe I didn’t now how to act properly every step of the way with all this warmth around me.” Love CAN be overwhelming ❀ And I couldn't be happier for you and yours. As for my youth, I too needed to walk a new road and create something that feels oh-so-from-scratch. Aren't we fortunate? To come out the other side with such awesome people in our lives? Such awesome love? Family love does more, Mark. You do more! What a sweet share to see you with your extended family ❀

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Really cool, bro Mark. BIL? Just kinda wondering about that. Sounds like me, forgetting names 10 seconds after I hear them. Family is a wonderment when they are together. I love mine to the moon and back, but I’m not sure they even notice I’m there. I’ve walked out the door and down to the bus stop before and no one ever seemed to miss me, so I’m just assuming they just didn’t notice anything except an extra chair for someone. At least they love my kids. That’s the main thing for me.

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    • They probably do like me bro Mark. They just forget I’m there, because I never get a chance to talk when we’re all together. They all have the loud strident voices from Mom’s side of the family, and I have the soft voice of my Dad’s side. But Dad was able to raise his to a pitch they could hear when he wanted to, and I never could. Another little giftie from MS.

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  7. Awwwwww! This is so touching and beautiful, Mr. B! It is difficult to walk into a spouse’s family reunion without having some sort of anxiety or concern. It sounds like you made an incredible effort to get to know them all better by asking questions and engaging. What a nice thing for Karen’s sister to say about you! That must have made you feel muy happy! πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  8. The really cool thing is that your family members, being like you, tend to choose and/or raise, folks who are compatible not only with them, but also with you. True for my sisters, my cousin, and my daughter. The only real bummer is distance.

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  9. Great post, Mark. Family reunions can be so much fun. When I first met my husband’s family, I felt like I walked into an episode of the Beverly Hill Billies–without the Beverly. They are a wild, loving bunch. The stories they shared turned their parents hair gray–one of the police officers who used to arrest my husband’s favorite cousins married into the family. Now their grand children are doing the same thing to them. I wouldn’t want to miss a moment of it. πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    • Now that’s a powerful allure, Tracy, from handcuffs in the police car to handcuffs in the boudouir …

      Anyway.

      What an exciting time you guys have over there on the left coast! Yay for your both sides, my friend.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Oh how I miss these posts, Mark! You have a way with words πŸ™‚ Families are quite the units. Some work better than others for sure. Nice to have people that care no matter what.

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  11. what a wonderful conclusion you came to, after this great event. as for my family, i grew up in discord as well, had some hard things happen along the way, and have begun my family with my next generation and their littles as well. the family lives on through them )

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  12. How refreshing (and rare) to gel with her family and see the good in all of them. I think your term “parental mismatch” is a great way of putting how most of us spent our childhoods. And this: “Roman Meal Bread & Lima Beans”–there’s the title for her autobiography.

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  13. Touching and reflective post, Mark. Family is everything, really, when you get down to those important events and moments in life. That said, family can be frustrating and emotionally draining because of all the history and because we know each other pretty well. I’ve always lived at a distance from my family. We are typically close, but have had a few lapses in communication. I’m currently experiencing one of those and it’s troubling. One thing that is really great about my family is that we are very accepting of each other and really always try to help one another out. I’m grateful for that!

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    • I’m glad to hear that you and your family members are there for each other, Amy. Mine are, too. That doesn’t mean there aren’t rough spots, as you say. πŸ™‚ Thanks for reading and putting your thoughts into this reflection on the oh-so-important institution that affects us so greatly.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Beautiful and touching post, Mark. Family is who you are with at the time. I have adopted more kids than I choose to say and they have accepted us, when our own children didn’t. Enjoy in the fun times of a close-knit family. I never had that either. It all boils down to Karen and you. You got this! ❀ πŸ˜€

    Liked by 1 person

  15. A wonderful post, Mark. It’s so wonderful that you got to know your wife’s family, and that you got to see her interact with them–and also that you got to meet and interact with them, too. Every family is different, and everyone I know has a family with at least some quirks, if not full dysfunction. πŸ˜‰

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  16. This is such a lovely, warm piece, Mark, and comes in perfect timing for me. I’ve been asked to organize a reunion for us here in PA. from a sister in Indiana who is homesick and worried that we don’t connect often enough. It is so nice to see how welcoming Karen’s family was to you. We all went lacking for that Norman Rockwell image, so we do the best we can with what we’re given…and that’s all good.

    I laughed at your “only an oldest sibling” frustration over the car arrangements. Good to let go of some of that control thing. ☺ You’ve raised a wise daughter.

    Great pics of such a lovely group. Thanks for sharing them with us.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, Van, the oldest sibling thing and control … so obvious. I could have smacked myself in the face with it. πŸ™‚ My daughter is a smart one, for sure. Thank you for your kind and generous comments along the way, my friend, as we relate to each other’s past and present. ❀

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  17. I guess it’s kind of like riding a bike with families…that easy flow of being able to pick up where you left off. My immediate family is all here in L.A. which is nice. I have some cousins and aunts back in NY which I would love to get a chance to see more often.

    This was a really nice tribute to your wife. It’s great that you see things in people, details and such, which show you have a real interest. Guess that’s why you are so suited to journalism.

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    • I’m glad to hear that a great part of your family made it out to LA with you Marissa. That is a comfort, for sure.

      Thanks for seeing this as a tribute to MDW Karen, which I did not want to get lost in my reflections about my own family waters. She has brought about so many of the positive changes in my life as find I am the best person I’ve ever been in her sphere. It’s amazing how that works, and it extended to her siblings and their offspring.

      And your observational powers are sharp, also, to note how my “hawk eye” for taking in people, places and things was a fit for my journalism career, indeed.

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  18. Great post Mark!!!! I like to say our family is geographically dysfunctional, we all live in our little lives. We don’t visit often, but we talk frequently, I usually talk to my Dad at least once every two weeks, sometimes more frequently. Our conversation topics are wide and varied, usually about my blog posts, how we are coming with our respective writing projects, the kids, the weather, movies, history. My family puzzles my husband to no end, because as little as we visit each other, we are all so close. He on the other hand, is always bashing heads with his Mom, he has a large extended family in the South. My extended family is scattered across the world and for the most part I have not met many of them. But I am okay with that. I have loved reading about the adventures of the your family reunion in Estes Park. I think having to get a large group of people to agree on activities and logistics would be frustrating (I can barely get my boys and husband to agree on what to eat for dinner).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for sharing the contrasts about your family and your hubby’s, SD. That does make for an interesting dynamic in your relationship, I would think.

      I’m glad you enjoyed my posts about our Estes Park adventures. I learned a lot about life again out there in beautiful Colorado, for sure.

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  19. I’m glad you found them to be your family, too. I often find not-my-family to feel more like family, and it goes to show I’ve chosen great friends.
    I have no siblings, so I don’t really understand the dynamics, but I understand it enough that I wanted to have a large family, because kids with siblings seem happier to me. (Not to mention those who have intact families…) Family is hard for me. The Mister’s maternal side is large AND tight-knit, and I can’t relate at all.

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    • Big, intact, close-as-the-next-second families are quite mysterious, I agree, Joey.

      And friends are family in many situations, yes they are. Because you’ve picked each other and are there in that time of need by choice.

      I don’t know if siblings are happier than only kids. I venture to say we all have our ups and downs.

      Thanks for being you and sharing, as alway.

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  20. I must confess Mark that I am having a hard time keeping your new family straight as to who is married to whom and such. Just so many of them – Ha! It is wonderful that they accepted you as part of the family. I really like the picture of the crew all standing on the rocks. I am an only child and am not married, so I don’t have a lot of opportunities to be with extended family. When I was with my ex, she had a large family back east. We would visit now and then and I got to meet her brother and sister and the aunts and uncles and cousins, etc. They were Acadian French and although they were not overly emotionally expressive, they loved to party. We had potluck suppers on the beach and sing alongs around the bonfire, etc. I’m somewhat hesitant about joining in festivities with strangers – I prefer to watch as others party. The energy level at these events was very high and just watching I could soak up a lot of fun. In their culture, the church is still an important component. It is considered an honor for a family to have family members in the clergy. So, family gettogethers were rife with priests and Nuns (family members, friends and associates). I had to watch my mouth – ha! That said, the priests and Nuns were right in there belting out songs, dancing and partaking of adult beverages. Ha! They were much more fun than I would have guessed.

    Anyway, it looks like your new family gave you a very warm welcome Mark. That makes sense as you are a good man Mark with an open and caring personality. I’m glad you found them and they found you. πŸ˜€

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    • Jeepers, Paul, I was worried about keeping them straight. A couple of times on day two I even referred to Steve as Scott. Thankfully, only in the morning before we’d all gotten together and I was quickly corrected! Didn’t make that mistake again or in front of them. πŸ™‚

      Thanks for your kind words about me, and my wife’s side of the family. We have a good thing going on with these reunions now. I hope No. 2 will be fantastic, too.

      Liked by 1 person

  21. Awesome article, Mark! Congratulations on discovering your “Norman Rockwell” family in the acceptance and comraderie you enjoyed with your dear wife, Karen’s nuclear family. You are lucky to have them and they are lucky to have you. Hear’s to the next family reunion, two years hence!

    Liked by 1 person

  22. I have come to believe there are few Norman Rockwell families and Father Knows Best. Family dynamics are tricky- getting along, being tolerant of differences, recognizing that each child in a family has their own perspective , quite different sometimes from other siblings, their experience different based on the relationship with their parents. It is great you got to spend real time with Karen’s family and feel part of it- and to really connect

    Liked by 2 people

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