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Nobody has ever before asked the nuclear family to live all by itself in a box the way we do. With no relatives, no support, we've put it in an impossible situation. ~Margaret Mead
Sometimes I feel like my entire life has been video-recorded on little bits and pieces of tape, randomly spliced together and stored inside my head in a big, untidy jumble. Years may pass and suddenly while driving the car or taking a shower, some snippet of conversation, brief encounter or seemingly insignificant moment from the past, will come flooding to the front of my brain. Sometimes these little flashbacks are so vivid that I feel like I'm 'in the moment'. What's even more curious, is that certain snippets seem to play over and over again.

One such rewind, is of a conversation I had with my grandmother that took place twenty-five years ago, in the summer room of my aunt's home. It was more of an exchange than a conversation.

We'd just finished lunch and Grandma turned to me, shook her head softly and said, "Karen, I just don't know how you do it."

Puzzled, I replied, "Do what?"

"Do everything that you do," she said with a smile.

Still confused, I said that I didn't understand why my raising three children was any more impressive than her raising five. She explained, that it was different in those days. There was always somebody around to help; an unmarried aunt, or cousin; a brother or uncle. She said she could never imagine being left alone as much with her children or ever having to be as independent as women are today.

Grandma standing behind and between her parents, with her children, her sister and her two unmarried aunts, Maggie and Judy.

That was it! The end of the conversation. The end of the video replay.

I do remember feeling a bit disturbed after our exchange, in spite of her explanation. Grandma must be slipping, I thought, or else she'd realize that my life as a wife and mother in the 1980s is nowhere near as challenging as hers was in the '30s and '40s. I was still confused.

Recently, while rummaging through some websites looking for notable quotes to use on a scrapbook layout, I stumbled upon these two by American Cultural Anthropologist, Margaret Mead (above) and Pulitzer/Nobel laureate Pearl S. Buck (below).
The lack of emotional security of our American young people is due, I believe, to their isolation from the larger family unit. No two people - no mere father and mother - as I have often said, are enough to provide emotional security for a child. He needs to feel himself one in a world of kinfolk, persons of variety in age and temperament, and yet allied to himself by an indissoluble bond which he cannot break if he could, for nature has welded him into it before he was born. ~Pearl S. Buck
When I read these, I immediately thought of Grandma's comment to me all those years ago and once again the video rewind. While, not her words exactly, there is certainly a common thread between the three thoughts. Ah, ha!

I finally comprehended what Grandma was saying all those years ago. She was speaking of the sociological differences that existed between our two generations, while all I was considering were the technological advances that separated us; two different things entirely. Wow, Grandma was a thinker and she was making a social as well as a practical observation. I was thinking superficially.

I'm a subscriber to the all-things-happen-for-a-reason school of thought. I don't think finding those two particular quotes was all that random, for not only did they help me solve a mental puzzle, they also seem to justify my own belief that our culture has gone a bit off-track.

Its interesting, that European culture retains the concept of the family home where multiple generations dwell under the same roof in small villages or communities. Sacrifices are made, money is pooled and values are shared. Europeans, like the Asians, still venerate the elderly. You won't find retirement and nursing homes all over Europe like you do in the United States. Grandpa and Grandma simply move in with the kids, when its no longer practical for them to live independently.

Traditional row-houses outside of Belfast, Ireland.

I wonder if that particular snippet of my life-loop had any bearing on my yearning to return to my roots. Maybe, on some psychological level, I understood exactly what Grandma meant, realized I couldn't do anything about it, and so willed myself to not understand her.

Every aspect of our society is being scrutinized today, like never before. Banking, housing, health care, education, wall street! You name it and the politicians want to overhaul it. Out with the old and in with the new! Regulate more - spend more money - that'll fix everything! What we need is bigger government!

Or, maybe the cure for our ills is more basic than all of that. Maybe we just need to look inward - at the American family - at our core values. Maybe that's where our trouble lies.

After all, like my philosopher-grandmother would have said, we don't want to throw the baby out with the bath-water.

I have the privilege of being an active participant in my grandson's life.


  1. It is so hard to know who you can count on. You should be able to count on your family, but all too often this is not the case today. Wheather they live nearby or not. People are so wrapped up in their own issues and it is all about "me, me, me". What a shame.

  2. mmm. good post. I definitely think there has been a tremendous shift in what our "family" has become nowadays. Not always for the better, too.

    I had a lot to say about that nearly 3 years ago when I had twins...