Though Jeff and I moved to the Chicago area 24 years ago, we still sometimes say "going home" when talking about going back to Michigan for family events or visits. Last weekend I went home for my sister's retirement party. I don't get back there very often anymore. Before kids we went home every few months. When the kids were very little we still tried to get there for major holidays and events but not so much anymore.
I don't like this but what can you do? When you move away four hours (now up to six hours thanks to ever-increasing and unavoidable Chicago traffic) and when you go from two of you to five of you (and two of them are teenagers with lives of their own) you aren't as mobile as you'd like to be. This does not make the people back home happy. My mother gamely tells me about every baby shower, dance recital, and pig roast that she thinks I should attend involving any of my dozens of cousins (some of them are HER second cousins, I don't even know what that makes them to me, twice removed or something) but for the most part we just can't pull it off which is why we're down to weddings, funerals, reunions, and retirements (for parents/grandparents/siblings/nieces & nephews only).
Those who have not moved away from home and indeed some who have not moved out of the zip code they were raised in, are not very understanding or sympathetic of those of us who have. In fact, I have come to realize there are a lot of unwritten rules about an arrangement like this. I know from talking to other friends who have "moved away" that these rules are pretty universal.
Here are some of the unwritten rules I've learned in 24 years of living away from "back home".
1) If you are the one who moved away, you are the one who has to come visit. It does not work the other way around." Yes, this defies logic and even common sense but still the grandmas and the aunties like to say "Gosh, it's been a long time since you came to visit" even though most of them have never been to your home or have been only once a long, long time ago.
2) No matter how long it has been since you moved away; no matter how far away you now live; no matter how busy you are; no matter how many kids of your own you have; no matter how much traffic you must battle--you are still expected to attend major events. I don't know if this applies to people when they get to a certain level of busy-ness or have so clearly made a new life for themselves far away. Maybe Oprah's cousins still ask if she will be attending the annual Thanksgiving dinner. Perhaps George Clooney's sister expects him to attend her daughter's ballet recital. I don't know but I know in my family and in most families, this stuff is still expected.
3) It is the right, nay the duty, of those who have chosen to stay in the childhood town to make fun of those who moved to "the big city." Though you would not make fun of the podunk town you have escaped, they feel free to tell you that they would NEVER live in the city you have chosen. The traffic is awful, there are too many people, the housing is outrageous, and the last time they visited they had to pay $6.00 for a Coors Light!
4) It's best to sneak into town and out of town without telling too many people. No matter how many of the family and friends you want to visit you will never be able to see them all so you will have to resort to sneaking in to town. My sister now does this to me since two of her three kids live about 20 minutes from me. The fact is by the time you make the long drive and have a nice visit with whomever you've come to see you have NO energy or desire to try to cram in one more visit. I'm okay with that since I've had to do it for about 24 years now.
And finally, the most important rule of all:
5) Regardless of how long you've been away, and how much you love where you live it's nice to know that when you go back home, you are always welcome. Because that's what home is all about.
If I've missed any more rules (Jennifer K. I'm thinking of you by the way) please let me know.