I grew up part of a small, somewhat dysfunctional family—parents, paternal grandmother, one sister. By the time I was into my sixteenth year, we’d lived in two cities and four neighborhoods in Canada, and had made the big move from Canada to Arizona. After I married at nineteen, my family’s moving and shifting continued.
But home to me—the place I grew up—will always be the redbrick house on Harris Place in the suburbs of Ottawa. The neighborhood was so new, old farmhouses and fields of sheep were interspersed with tracts of new homes. As neighbors began move in—many Air Force (RCAF) like my Dad—everyone seemed anxious to get settled and establish friendships. Families intermingled, and both kids and adults were in and out of each other’s backyards and homes on a daily basis. My Godparents moved close by when I was ten, quickly becoming part of our family. Our six years in City View were the closest I’ve ever experienced to being part of a large, extended family. (Remember this extended family thing.)
Introspection is everything. It doesn’t always take an analyst’s couch to recognize the past events that shape us, and acknowledge how they complicate our emotional base even decades down the road. I remember one Sunday afternoon picnic in particular, prior to our move to Ottawa. There we sat, our small, well-mannered nuclear family, sipping tea out of thermoses, eating sausage rolls and sandwiches with the crusts cut off, while my parents did their best to ignore the rowdier, usually Italian, families nearby. I behaved as expected, but so wanted to be part of those animated groups: everyone shouting and gesturing, kids one notch below out of control, squirming against the hugging and laughing that accompanied their being scolded. At seven-years old, I quietly I decided I would marry an Italian. I didn’t.
Which wraps around, in a very convoluted way, to my point, that tricky tenth commandment—ENVY—the most recent rock in the road tripping me up on my journey to self-actualization. I’ve always been proud (pride, another trip-up) that being envious was simply not part of my nature. And when it comes to material things, I still believe that to be true. I’ll never envy your spacious home, sports car, or four-caret diamond, but I’m not as unburdened by jealously as I’d like to think. But more background is needed for context.
My parents immigrated to Canada from England after WWII. My father’s parents followed six months later, but the rest of their very large family remained in Britain. Considering the state of England after the war, I’m sure my parent’s decision to start over in Canada was a good one, but there were unforeseen ramifications to their choice. Moving so far away from home meant that their future children would never experience the support of extended family. We’d grow up without cousins, aunts, uncles, our other set of grandparents, and we’d never recognize behaviors and characteristics in the context of DNA. Jetting back and forth across the Atlantic simply wasn’t done back then. Thirty-one years would pass before my mother would see her own mother again.
So what does this autobiographical ramble have to do with the sin of envy? As I recently followed Facebook posts about family celebrations, past and planned, reading cousins’ posts about their shared childhoods, memories of weddings, funerals, and even their everyday lives, I felt that unbecoming shade of green creeping over me. The upside of Facebook is having a window into everyone’s world, but the downside is feeling like I’m always on the outside looking in. That sure sounds a lot like envy to me. Yup. Hard to admit. Not pretty, is it?
So shaking myself off, I’ve decided that when all the human homing pigeons start posting about taking off to join relatives for big traditional holiday gatherings or milestone birthdays, where they will be surrounded by a dynasty of children, grandchildren and loving lifetime friends, I will make every effort to turn the color wheel from green to rosy pink. I will count my own blessings, which are plentiful. I will remind myself that every large family isn’t The Waltons and, as my mother used to say about close friends, “The fewer people who know your business, the fewer there are to gossip about you.” Maybe she had a point. There’s always an upside.
Lynn Nicholas - AUTHOR oF Dancing Between The Beats
My blog is a window into my world. My slice-of-life narratives are triggered by life's