How Living Far From Family Takes a Toll on My ChildAna Flores
“I wish we could live close to our family. Why do we have to live so far away?”
The doors had closed on the shuttle that were taking my husband, our daughter Camila (6) and I to the Reno airport to head back home after a week-long vacation in Lake Tahoe with my husband’s side of the family. On the other side of those doors, waving goodbye at us from the curbside, were my sister and brother in law, with my two nephews — Camila’s adored primos.
My girl’s face was drenched in tears that exemplified her sadness. She just kept repeating and repeating, “I wish we could live close to our family. Why do we have to live so far away?”
Her words tore deep into my soul. Into the mom soul permeated with a constant sense of guilt for having only one child — even though my husband and I are crystal clear that this is the best decision for us — and for not having any other family member that lives even remotely close enough to us to give Camila a broader and more continuous sense of family. She’s learned to accept she’s an only child, but she still can not understand why we have to live so far away from her two sets of cousins. One set of brother and sister lives in Cancun and the other, from my side, live in El Salvador.
“Why do we live so far away?” I really don’t know, but I doubt it will change anytime soon.
Six years ago, my mother-in-law made the beautiful decision to invest in a timeshare so that she could get her daughter and son and their kids together in one place once per year. I could never thank her enough for this vision of hers. Even though we try to travel to Mexico at least once per year, these family trips have become special because they put us all on vacation mode and in one villa at once. This is only the second time we’ve been able to all get together, and we chose a ski trip to Heavenly in Lake Tahoe.
Camila had seen her cousins at her grandparents’ lake house in México during the summer. The bond they had as babies and toddlers just grew stronger now that they are all 6 and 7 years old. This ski trip happened just six months later, so when they saw each other this time, it’s as if they had never been apart — instant play, fights, laughter and all.
For my nephews, it was the first time they had ever seen the snow. For Camila, it was the first time she would spend so much time in a winter environment and get to experience it all with cousins that felt like siblings. Their first time building a snowman, their first snow angel, their first snowball fight, their first time ice skating, their first time in ski school without parents and all three of them together passing to level 4 within three days and going down the “big mountain” while embracing their fears.
Those six days were packed with intensity, with emotion, with ups and downs, with pride, with firsts, love, loudness, fights and challenges. But most of all, with a sense of belonging and family. When those shuttle doors were closed, she felt we had ripped that right away from her because we decided to marry and not live with our family, or so she interprets it to be.
All I could do was hug her and wipe her tears away but never attempt to stop the flow. She had to cry. She had to spill out all the thoughts that were crossing her head like, “I want to live with them 100 weeks,” after I persuaded her to see how great it was that we got to spend this week with them. She could only focus on the loss, and that’s okay because it is that feeling of emptiness that makes us love and appreciate the important people in our lives.
She cried for over an hour until she finally fell asleep on my lap. When the plane took off, she cried again. When we got home, she ran over to the mantle to grab a picture frame we have of the three of them taken during a trip to Cancun. She sat with the picture in front of her and started weeping again, while caressing their faces with her fingers.
At that moment, I felt jealous. I wanted to feel the loss she felt with the intensity of passion she had. After living for over 20 years so many borders away from my family and growing up with my dad living in a different country, I never feel extreme sadness when saying goodbye to loved ones. I accept it as part of me and know that there are bonds that no time or borders can destroy. These are my girl’s first tears of deep loss. It might never get easier for her to accept the distance because it hasn’t been her choice. But her tears will console her until the next time she gets to be with those she can just be herself around.