For most of our time together, the “East Coast” was sort of a mythical place to my kids. Having a father who is the California expatriate, there was something magical about stepping off a plane and being surrounded by the entire balance of the immediate Sadusky family: four sets of aunts and uncles, a gaggle of eight cousins, and, in the center of it all, the one-and-only Grandma Connie. Even after 10 years of hearing from, talking to, and visiting, the “East Coast” has its own special place in the boys’ hearts.
Making this connection wasn’t exactly a piece of cake. In the middle-class, Mid-Atlantic, mostly-very-Catholic world of my blood family, the reality of me adopting two boys, of a different race, as a single gay man, did not exactly follow anyone’s script. And in my middle-class, Mid-Atlantic, mostly-very-Catholic blood family, folks are not exactly shy about letting you know when they disapprove of your off-script choices. Loudly.
Given that, I consider it a blessing (if not a minor miracle) that over time everyone has stepped up and embraced the kids both physically and emotionally in ways that have been wonderful to behold.
My father was actually the first one to extend a welcome, and our first trip back East, about a year after the boys moved in, was to see him solo. Given that my parents were married and living in the same house, this would have required some FBI-level logistics. Unfortunately, Dad solved that problem conclusively by passing away about two weeks before our trip.
Mark, on hearing the news: “Awww, I wanted to meet him.”
It took about another year before my mother made her first overture towards my new family, and gradually the rest of the pack followed suit. Since that time, we have made the trek back east at least once yearly. All four sisters and their families roughly within an hour of my mother—who is still in the house where we all grew up—so it is fairly easy to plant ourselves somewhere central and make visits to most or all of the homes. We usually try to time the trips to some occasion: We were either there or just missed both my youngest niece and nephew’s births in August, and we hit a couple of eighth grade graduations a couple of Junes ago. Although we usually travel in the summer, one year we made an exception and flew out on New Year’s Eve to celebrate Daveon’s early January birthday with the East Coast family—at his request. It was his only winter birthday with snow. (As it turns out, a couple of years later, we made a flight right around the same time to attend my grandmother’s funeral—a slightly less joyful January visit.)
Unfortunately, by the time we started our East Coast visits, the boys missed not only my dad, but also several of the “grand old ladies” of the family, including Aunt Bett, Aunt Phine, and Cousin Betty. (I grew up around a lot of Italian women. The men all died young, which may be why the women seemed so generally cheerful.) The boys did get to meet my grandmother, Mom Mom, before she passed at age 100. They have, as cousins/nephews will, formed different types and levels of bonds with the various aunts, uncles, and cousins, some of whom they stay in more or less regular contact with through the wonder of Facebook.
As a sign of the connection, on our last trip to the East Coast, each kid spent time there separately. Daveon went first by himself while Mark was finishing school, and after Mark and I joined him, Daveon and I took off for a few days to look at Northeast colleges. It was quite an accomplishment that kids who came into a family as preadolescents not knowing “Who is my parent?” would within a few years—as teens, even—willingly and eagerly look forward to spending solo time with the extended family. I am glad that “East Coast” is available as a resource for them, and hope they and their cousins maintain close bonds as they become the next generation of adults.
Next: Hard Parts: Harm