Raising Richmond: Flying solo or with the fam?

Your kids and your family: do they have an up-close-and-personal relationship, or is it of the long-distance variety? Here Patience and Valerie share their experiences raising children with family far away and close by (respectively). We hope you’ll share your experiences, too.

Editor’s note: Today’s feature is the latest installment of our parenting column written by two Richmond mothers: Patience Salgado (veteran mother of four gorgeous children), and Valerie Catrow (newish mother to a giant toddler). Check back fortnightly to watch them discuss/agree/disagree/throw down over all kinds of parenting issues, Richmond-related and beyond.

Today’s question: Does your family live nearby or far away? How has this affected your parenting experience?

Patience Salgado

“Do you want to move to Portland? I found an apartment on Craigslist last night!” I said, chattering, one morning after a hectic week. He laughed and shook his head because he knows I am just a little bit crazy and serious.

If you can move almost 1,000 miles away from your family with an 8-week old baby while in crazy debt to work long hours at a manual labor job once, you can do it again. But 10 years and three kids later, I do wonder just how we survived at times. There are moments when you have tapped the friend resource and there are just some things only your mom can do for you.

I mean, who voluntarily comes over to your house and just spontaneously starts wiping down counter tops and picking up clothes to drop in your washing machine? Who insists we should go to Costco because you should have at least 12 rolls of the best paper towels and also buys you the quart of fresh raspberries?

There is no doting large awkward group wildly cheering at your kid’s kindergarten play. No sleepovers at the grandparent’s house while they let you stay up too late and always have Hershey chocolate bars lying around. No wacky goodness like Modern Family, and the babysitting sitch totally blows. I have learned when there is no rescue or relief on the horizon, tearful phone calls just have to do.

Yet every visit with those you love and miss is like Santa’s arrival in the flesh, and road trip kids are on their best behavior because the destination is so sweet. Kvetching and hen pecking from well-meaning family members can be tolerated in small doses and kept at bay. The people, friends, and neighbors around you get sucked into your growing family, and you start creating little mini communes everywhere you go. You even call yourself a commune-ist and make T-shirts.

It is required life learning to discover both how strong you are and, at the same time, how much you need. You are forced to ask for help and still figure it out on your own. More than all the good and even the bad, there is a feeling that in the end, the family you created is the one you stand firmly in. Wherever you are, whoever is around, whatever comes and goes, I know this ground is solid for me.

Valerie Catrow

When my husband and I were in talks about where we’d live after graduating from college and getting married, we floated a few ideas around. Seattle was a possibility, as were Northern Virginia and Maryland — basically it came down to where Ross got a job (I had a teaching license, and in ’03 that meant school districts were throwing jobs at you). As fate would have it, we ended up staying in Richmond, the place where I was born and pretty much every single member of my family lived (and has lived and still lives, forever and ever amen).

The fact that we’d be putting down roots near those planted by my family was neither a pro nor a con in our decision-making process; it kind of was what it was. But now that we’ve had a kid? Don’t even try to talk to me about moving out of this town, away from my family. I will hear nothing of it.

Now before you think my family is all hugs and kisses and Sunday dinners around the backyard picnic table, let me assure you: that is not the case. Many of them have crazy potential, each in very different and special ways. We have our drama, our baggage, our “Are you SERIOUSLY bringing that up again?” issues like every other family (maybe more so in some cases). Meanwhile, our son JR has three sets of grandparents in town to consider, so negotiating and navigating the holidays are enough to make you (read: me) want to smash your head against a brick wall and be done with it.

But they’re all here. They’re present and available and constant in my son’s life in a way that, having experienced it, I wouldn’t trade for anything.

Some highlights…

My in-laws (who also live here) cleaned our house and stocked our pantry while I was laid up in bed recovering from a traumatic birth and an unexpected C-section.

During the days shortly after my son’s birth, my mother stopped by on her lunch hours to bring me clothes that fit, help with nursing issues, and hold the baby while I slept.

My father and step-mother were able to bring my then 98-year-old grandmother to the hospital so she could hold her first great grandchild just hours after he was born. Two years later, he was there to help her celebrate her 100th birthday. (Excuse me while I weep for a second.)

When I went back to work at just 7 weeks postpartum, I was able to leave my son with my mother-in-law, saving me from (some of) that anxiety so many working mothers feel when they have to leave their babies in someone else’s care. And when she got sick, my father and sister stepped in, without hesitation, to pitch-hit until I got a more permanent childcare situation.

But it’s not just those big moments that make me grateful to have family close by. It’s the every day stuff: the impromptu lunch dates; the hands-on grandparent support for potty training; the slew of babysitters itching to keep him for a sleepover so we can get a night alone; the long, leisurely visits waiting for us at the end of just a 20 minute drive. I feel like these little things are true blessings for our son (and us) because they enable our extended family to really be a part of JR’s daily life — to let them learn what makes him tick, and for him to learn about them in the same way. I love that JR could potentially learn to play guitar from his Uncle Bryan or piano from his Aunt Robin. I love that he could grow to appreciate golf through his Grandpa’s devotion to it. I love that he’s absorbed his Mamaw’s love for digging in the dirt and his Papaw’s love for doing things “just so.”

I’m sure if Ross and I had ended up moving out of town, our son’s relationships with his extended family would still be special and meaningful. And I think there’s definitely truth to the whole “absence makes the heart grow fonder” perspective; it’s easy to take something for granted if it’s always there, right in front of you. But I try not to because I know that these people — these wonderful, crazy people that drive me nuts like only family can — will shape and color my son’s childhood in a way that just can’t be matched. So here we are and here we will stay. I hope they will, too. (And if they don’t, I will find them. I’ve also got my own special brand of crazy.)

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Patience Salgado

Notice: Comments that are not conducive to an interesting and thoughtful conversation may be removed at the editor’s discretion.

  1. Well done ladies. Patience your thoughts on the subject capture exactly how I feel and oddly enough my family are in the Pac NW as well, albeit up I-5 a couple hundred miles. Let me add that there is a special color of “green with envy” when I call family out there and hear for the millionth time that a niece is spending the night/weekend/week with grandma.

  2. Jennifer C. on said:

    I grew up with distant grandparents; one of our family traditions was to pile into whatever gas-guzzling V8 wagon we had and drive twelve hours to my mom’s family reunions every Thanksgiving. My mom was a traditional stay-at-home 70’s mom with the four of us (note to Val: she was a teacher too, but in those days pregnant women couldn’t teach once they started to show) who went back to work when I was a freshman. They’ve lived in Richmond since 1968, and have fashioned a family out of church activities, bridge and women’s clubs, Scouting, and neighbors.
    I bought my house in the city and hope to stay here forever and always, and the fact that my parents are a six-minute drive away has no bearing on that whatsoever. Honest. Granted, my mom and I are of the too-much-alike school of filial relations, but she is an amazing grandmother. When I went into labor, I called her (hoping she’d clean my bathroom and/or kitchen, to be honest) and she decorated my Christmas tree. It wasn’t exactly what I was after, but I had pretty lights to look at while I lay there with my newborn son, both of us all cross-eyed.
    They’ve also been extremely supportive during my divorce. Knowing there is a place my kids can go that never changes, that has the same cast of players all the time, is incredibly valuable to me as their mother. The network of my parents’ friends spreads throughout Richmond, and there are literally dozens of people I can call and say, “HELP” and it’ll be there.

  3. Lovely perspectives, my friends; you’ve both got me teary because my girls have no grandparents, the one set that was possible gone now, having missed Little B altogether. But we do make our communities otherwise, don’t we? The friends we always share holidays with, the cousins (my mother’s) who’ve taken grandparent surrogacy to heart, the adoptive families like us.

  4. Jeb Hoge on said:

    We’ve had some…interesting family dynamics based in the relative proximities of our sets of parents. Ever since well before we had kids, mine have always been 10 hours away. My wife’s, never more than 3. Guess who we see more? And yes, there’s a jealousy angle to it that has flared up a time or two, and we have had the occasional very long stretch of not seeing my parents. I’m not really sure how I feel about it, but being closer to my wife’s family is very important to her and thus to me.

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