childhood brings forward memories of barbecues (in new england, that’s what we call a cookout), my mother putting hamburger and hotdog buns, humpty dumpty potato chips, and triscuits into wicker baskets lined with unfolded napkin squares. burgers and marinated teriyaki chicken on the grill. all of us cousins running around on a soda-induced sugar high.
one of my favorite things about my family was that, while there were always traditional gendered roles echoing in the aunts washing dishes and the uncles drinking beer and talking about tools and lawn equipment, there were just as many free and open positions that each family member took. my uncle, the family historian and memory-capturer, always filming and photographing our get-togethers with pride. my mom changing the propane tank on the grill. another uncle serving burgers while my aunt broke apart the giant ice bag from the gas station. all of the cousins asked to help clean things up. while these were small things, they expressed that work should be shared and jobs were equal. they also helped me to see the value of family. we were there for one another, functioned as a unit. celebrated successes. mourned losses. just got together to hang out. and this was what i always wanted for my future. i have realized that while my family wasn’t always perfect and we didn’t have a lot of money, they gave me room to be who i was and worked to give me a life that went beyond expectation.
but i had expectations. expectations i always felt were challenging to live up to. expectations that didn’t come from my parents or my aunts and uncles or cousins. expectations i created for myself. in many ways, i’ve resisted being closer to my family in recent years because i felt that i couldn’t live up to that. at 33, i do not own my own home or have children of my own to bring to barbecues and holiday parties. not having these things has made me feel like i have little to contribute to the unit, although they do not expect anything but my time and love. i’ve asked myself a lot about these expectations recently, and realized that i have them for myself in almost every area of my life, for no other reason than the “supposed to”s and “should”s i’ve mentioned before. it’s incredible how much power we give to living up to what we think others expect of us. imagine the accomplishments we could achieve if we removed that standard and started living for all of the things that bring us what we actually need and want in our lives. for some people that may mean following the dreams of their families. for others it may mean abandoning those dreams at all costs. but we must decide for ourselves. choose the path that brings us to the place we want to find ourselves in the world. and follow it until it ends, or we choose another. that is what will bring us truly beyond expectation. beyond the hopes and dreams of others and into the warm heart of what even we couldn’t see for ourselves. the real meaning of what it means to be home.