by John Ellis
For twelve years, we’ve been a family of four. Twelve years of surprises, growth, tears, laughter, and adventure. Twelve years that feel like a lifetime.
Parents often talk about how quickly time flies. Before they realized it, they dolefully confess, their diapered babies were headed off to college. I don’t relate. Our eldest still has a year and a half before she heads off to college, but my experience is not in line with what seems to be the norm. Time has not flown by for me. It feels like our eldest has been with us for a really long time. Likewise, the twelve years our current youngest has been a part of our family also feels like a really long time. And for that I am thankful.
I can still see and feel many of the moments that have shaped the four of us into the family unit that we are. The disappointments and the joys. The struggles that led to growth. The arguments as well as the moments of unity. The unexpected adventures – like the world’s most absurd and inappropriate circus we found ourselves at in Wolf Point, Montana, of all places – that seem to always find us. I vividly remember, at the end of his second-grade year, when our son announced after climbing into the car, “I got an award.” I asked him for what only to be shocked to hear, “For being on student council all year.” We had no idea he had been elected class representative at the beginning of the year because he had never told his. He gets that from his sister. She would never tell us about art contests she won because she never wanted to have to go to the ceremonies. Which is fine because I don’t like going to those things either. I’ve always hated curtain calls. She takes after me.
Yet it feels like a curtain call is coming.
Lord willing, in about a month and a half, we will cease to be a family of four and become a family of five. I have no doubt that what comes next will be as exciting and wonderful as what has been. We all eagerly await when we finally get to meet Teaghan Rae. Most of the time, boyish excitement probably best describes my existential state. But I do find myself mourning the end of this iteration of our family.
Before moving on to a new place, Jack Kerouac would go around to all the spaces that had contributed to the moments that combined to make the larger beat that was that place and say goodbye to each one. Change is paradoxically exciting and mournful. Because while change brings freshness and potential, change also brings loss.
Over the past few months, moments and events as a family of four have made their final exit from our stage. A little over two months ago, over fall break, we took our final vacation together as a family of four.
Due to the destructive force of Hurricane Ian, we were forced to make a last-minute change (an inconvenience that isn’t comparable to the real loss suffered by many who felt the full brunt of Hurricane Ian). Usually, we go to Venice Beach, about twenty miles south of Sarasota. This year, we found ourselves in the Palm Beaches area.
While not the vacation we were expecting when planning it and buying tickets for the variety of “things-to-do” in the Palm Beaches area, we still had fun in the nearly “abysmal” failure of it all. We laughed at paying nearly $100 to a science center that’s only real draw for us ended up being a lame minigolf course on its back lot. We rolled our eyes upon discovering that the turtle rescue center we were all looking forward to contained a grand total of … wait for it … two turtles. Likewise, visiting (and paying for) a manatee center that had zero manatees may have been the low point, but we loved it. We loved it all. The bad restaurants, the overpriced tourist traps, the crappy weather that kept us from ever going to the beach on our beach vacation. All of it. And like we always do, we bought magnets at each place we visited to adorn our fridge.
Our refrigerator is an homage to many of the most enjoyable, most disappointing, weirdest, most unexpected, most mundane, most whatever-superlative-you-want experiences our family has had together. I can look at our fridge and be reminded of the time we tried St. Louis-style “pizza” as a family (the kids loved it; Danita and I hated it) – that’s also the same trip that we found ourselves trapped in the annual naked bike ride, twice. Or the time we visited Mount Rushmore, and our son was convinced we were in Egypt. His favorite TV show at the time, the Little Einsteins, had an episode where they traveled to the Sphinx. Magnets cover our fridge that remind us that for years, whenever it would snow, we would bundle the kids up and drag them down to the National Mall. While there, we would pose the kids in front of monuments for a picture and then say, “Look miserable and angry!” (which we didn’t really need to do because they were already miserable and angry) because my wife and I thought it was funny. It was probably only funny to us (it wasn’t funny to the kids), but the magnets of the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, etc. still bring a smile to my face.
I have a plan for those magnets. In my mind, I see Infinity and Hayden sitting in our house after the funeral of whichever one of us, between Danita and I, live the longest sorting out the magnets. They will reminiscence, alternating between laughing and crying, as they remember the many great and fun and awful and boring experiences we enjoyed as a family of four. Over the last few years, that “future memory” has brought me great joy. Now, though, a hint of sadness lives in it.
You see, Teaghan will be there, too, sitting beside her sister and brother. But for at least half of the magnets, she will sit silently, listening. Those memories, those important family memories that have helped make us the family we are, will not belong to her. Likewise, there will be a host of magnets that belong only to her; Infinity and Hayden will not be part of those memories. This makes me sad, yet happy, too.
We have one final, major memory to make as a family of four. And while Christmas this year will likely not have a magnet on our fridge, pictures and memories will exist. This is our last Christmas together as a family of four – the family of four that is our family (soon to be “was”). The family that has twelve years of experiences and memories that have helped shape us into the family we are. If feels like this Christmas is the final goodbye to this family.
And yet, it also feels like this is Teaghan’s Christmas. She already looms large, for good reason, over our family. In reality, we are already no longer a family of four. For that, I am thankful, yet I understand that this new major beat in the story of our family is going to change something that I love deeply. Our family’s story is going to change (is changing) for the better, sure. But it would be dishonest of me to pretend that a bit of nostalgia doesn’t drape over this final, major moment in our family of four’s life. In fact, I wish she were already here so that she could experience this season with us. She missed one of our cats getting tangled in the Christmas tree lights and almost pulling the whole thing over. She’s missing out on moving all the furniture and stuff around our house in a puzzle like manner as we prep her new room. I’m sorry that she’s missing out on the frustration and laughter that is being woven into our family’s story this Christmas season. She’s already missed too much.