I spent this weekend in Chicago with my mom, my brothers, and their respective partners and children. I went to a paint party, watched a gymnastics final, ate a birthday meal, and wore myself out running around the house and yard with significantly more energy than I actually have. By Monday, I will be back in Texas, I will be exhausted, and my life will be uncomfortably quiet.
When I went to college, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I wanted to go out of state. I can’t think what reasoning I gave myself at the time, but looking back I know it was an insecure-youngest-child decision. I spent all of high school trying to distance myself from my older brothers: I took German because they took Spanish and French, I played saxophone because they played trumpet and trombone, and I waited until I was seventeen to get my driver’s license because they hadn’t. It made sense that I wanted to get out from behind their shadows and go somewhere where I wasn’t just the baby sister.
Then I met a boy and followed him like a puppy dog across the country to Pittsburgh. I was excited to start my big girl life, but I had no one to share it with. Meanwhile, my niece learned to swim, my brothers’ girlfriends met the family that didn’t include me, my dad went in and out of the hospital a bunch of scary times.
I was still only an eight-hour drive away. I dropped in for a long weekend at least once, surprised my mom for her birthday one year, and made space to see everyone around Christmas. It was never enough, but it was always something.
And then there was Texas. This is the second time I’ve seen my family in a year. My nephew was born right after Christmas, a month after I saw everyone at Thanksgiving. My niece was born in April, and I missed the baby shower because my dog needed surgery. I missed mother’s day this year, and just about every birthday, and I’m only just now getting to celebrate my brother’s engagement that happened two weeks ago.
Texas is far, guys.
Now that I am an adult and living so far out of state, I keep searching for ways to close that distance between my brothers and me. I watch the movies we loved as kids, I send them pictures of our childhood dog, and every time I do something fun I think about how much I wish I could share the experience with them.
Life happens everywhere. It happens in Chicago, and it happens in Texas, and no one is actively keeping anybody out. But because life is everywhere, it’s impossible to get back to the days when we would bicker over who got to sit where at the dinner table, or whether we switched back and forth between TV shows instead of sitting through commercials. Now, when we argue, that’s all we have for six months until we can see each other again and replace the fight with better memories. It’s painful and it’s different, and I’ve never wished so hard for the ability to be two places at once.
So consider this a love letter from your faraway child. There might be one of us in every family; the odds are good these days. The one who couldn’t stay put and had to be different, and, maybe without realizing it, sacrificed closeness. We’re sorry. Sorrier than we thought we would be. Even though we try, with the Skype calls and the texts and the surprise flights for a birthday painting party, we can never be where we want to be when we want to be there. And we hate it as much as you do.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I am being asked to play outside by a little girl I never get to say yes to. I need to say yes yes yes while I still can.
Mary Margaret is a 2013 English, history, and secondary education grad who went rogue and became a Social Worker in Pennsylvania’s Child Welfare system. Specifically, she works as a caseworker in the Statewide Adoption and Permanency Network finding families for children and educating the masses about foster care, adoption, and permanency planning. She made it over the grad-school hurdle with gold stars and warm fuzzies and is on to the next big adventure: the unknown of adulthood. Her major writing dream right now is to finish her science fiction novel that explores the concurrent futures of child welfare and artificial intelligence.