It’s easy to smile when I see Facebook updates of my long-distance family. It’s easy to add a quick comment “Wish I was there!” and continue scrolling on.
It’s a whole lot harder to spend a morning scrolling through exactly all the family events we missed this last year without shedding a tear.
Over the years, I have become the one to create the annual family calendar and in doing so, I see all the family camping trips, holiday parties, graduations and weddings we weren’t able to attend.
Right there in front of me, for hours at a time, I see all the events my children did not get participate in.
The football games we didn’t spend huddled together under a blanket sipping hot cocoa, the freezing water of Lake Superior that we did not jump into, the graduation of our niece that I have barely seen since she was five, or the wedding only my husband could attend.
But as I sit, smile and reflect on what we have missed by choosing to live far from our family I also reflect on all that my family has experienced this past year.
With a good many of those experiences happening because we live where we live. Experiences that would not have been possible if we had been living in any number of the cities and towns that our family members live in or the towns we grew up in.
Living far from our family certainly means sacrificing the amount of time we have to spend with our extended family but it also has given us countless hours of quality time with our little family of five.
Times where we have hibernated together for the winter; learning to crochet, sharing a family bed and understanding the concept of being a spoon (not a knife) when we share said family bed. And times where we have spent whole afternoons baking, reading, going for a walk, crafting, or cuddling together to watch movies.
Living far from family also provides our long-distance family members a beautiful area of the country to come and visit. With welcome arms. It provides them an opportunity to visit and share the traditions we’ve developed while growing our family, far from family.
It provides the opportunity to slow-down and relax; to enjoy each others company and to want to soak in every precious moment of time together that we do have.
My family had the wonderful opportunity to live in Spain for ten months this past year as part of a teacher exchange program at my husband’s school district. An opportunity that we felt was truly a once in lifetime opportunity for us. And an opportunity we had because of where he works. Being immersed in a new culture was both amazing and challenging. My children developed wonderful friendships that will hopefully last a lifetime. They also learned to be more compassionate, more understanding, and have much more fortitude. Two days after arriving in Spain, they started school not knowing any of the language.
Life here in the Pacific Northwest offers us amazing outdoor opportunities and being near Seattle and Bellevue offers us amazing cultural activities. My children attended library story times in different languages, we regularly visit museums and science centers and we hike together year-round on trails all within an hours drive.
Regret can easily creep in when looking through hundreds of photos of family that don’t include you or your children.
Yet over the years, I have learned that regret can coexist with appreciation and gratitude for being exactly where I am. Here. Not only geographically here, but also, here, in this season of life of raising children and forming family traditions together.
I do have regrets that I missed out on my nieces and nephews growing up and I wish my children did live in closer proximity to their grandparents. But I also have a lot of joy and appreciation for where we do live, the friendships we have formed and the experiences we have together.
For years, this dichotomy of regret and gratitude bothered me. My daydreams were filled with thoughts on what life would look like if we lived closer to family or what life would like if we stayed right where we are. After living far from family for nearly fifteen years the push and pull I feel in my heart doesn’t bother me nearly as much.
I have learned that I can be both thankful for being right where I am and have regret for where I am not. They can coexist. And that’s okay.
So while I create yet another family calendar masterpiece, I will smile, laugh, cry and try my very hardest to not allow all of my wonderful experiences to dominate each page. Because believe me, someone is always keeping score! (Yes, I’m talking about you big brother-in-law)