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Hands of a family In the morass of modernity, I think it is easy to lose track of what matters. I do. I think we are overstimulated, overwrought, overcaffeinated souls floating through busy and blurry days. I think we often get bogged down in details that don't deserve us and tangled in technology that obscures our basic nature. I think we let good and simple things become camouflaged by concocted complexity, by artificial tension, by excuses, by expectations.

I think. I don't know, but I think.

As some of you know, I went away for the weekend. My sister had a baby a little over a week ago and I made the trip to Chicago to meet him. This trip was not easy for me. I am a creature of home and habit and not a huge fan of flying. But I went. And, as predicted, I am so happy I did. I am happy for predictable, Hallmarkesque reasons and I am happy for reasons that are a bit more murky.

Predictable, Hallmarkesque Reasons: First and foremost, I got to meet Chickie. I got to hold him. I got to run my hand over his tiny head. I got to smell his newness and remember how impossibly soft newborn skin is. I got to hug my big sister. I got to congratulate the daddy of the moment on the arrival of his very first son. I got to snuggle and be silly with the big sister duo.

Murkier Reasons. This weekend was big for me. I am too close to it to explain why exactly, but I will give it a shot. It was big because I wandered outside my comfort zone and left home. It was big because I got on an airplane by myself and weathered the rough skies between Here and There. It was big because I glimpsed my sister's world, her own breed of compelling chaos.

It was big because I realized what matters most to me, what has always mattered most to me: Family.

Family. That's it. My number one.

As time passes, things are becoming more and more clear to me. Since Dad died, I have been a bit of a mess. I have been confused and angry and more than a bit sad. Confused about how to grieve and get on with my life. Angry that Mother Nature and cancer cells can shatter the snow globe of a big and beautiful family. Sad that we cannot have him back, that we must plow forward in his stinging absence.

And I have done a commendable job in distracting myself from these things. I have channeled Dad's laser-like focus on work and professional passion. I have lost my taste for superficiality. I have not stopped writing and thinking and planning and plotting. And it's exhausting. And more than being exhausting, it's blurred my focus a bit.

My focus on family.

But this weekend. This weekend, with tears in my eyes, I kissed Husband and my girls goodbye. And I missed them instantly. On the plane, shaken by turbulence and realization, I had a bit of an epiphany which you will hear about tomorrow. And then I arrived. And plopped myself squarely in my sister's world. A world of life and laughter and love.

A world of family.

I cradled a tiny baby who may or may not have Dad's nose. I wrestled two little girls in a purple polka-dot bed. I celebrated my brother-in-law's birthday. I talked with my two older sisters. (Sister I made the trip too.) About the impossible imperative to divide one's maternal affection into three. About the closing of biological doors. About the enigma of balance. About the fibers of family.

And I was overcome with a wave of profound ambivalence which shocked me because I didn't think ambivalence came in waves. I looked at my sister cradling her new boy, tending to her girls from afar. And I felt a tug.

"I want another baby," I said. "But not yet. But I haven't changed my mind. I still want four!"

"Have you thought about why you want so many kids?" Sister I asked me.

And it was a good question. A fair question. One to which I have given a lot of thought.

"Yes," I said. "This. This chaos? This is what I want. I want a big family. I want the bustle."

And I do. That is what I want. I want a tormenting excess of laughter and love. I want utter and impossible mayhem which tests every morsel of my being.

As my sisters and I talked, I noticed two pictures on the mantle above the fireplace. (Wherein this little guy got a wee bit charred.) The two pictures had one thing in common. Dad. In one picture, he wore a tux and walked Sister N down the aisle. In the other, he sat on the powder blue sofa where I spent so much of my weekend. He sat there, cradling her two girls. And this picture made me smile. But it also made me sad. Because Dad will never meet Baby or Baby Bulldog or little Chickie or any of the future Donnelley creatures. There won't be these photo ops.

But there wasn't time to wallow. And for that I was grateful. In no time, I was busy watching Sister I change a tiny diaper and collapsing into a puddle laughter when Chickie peed all over his itty-bitty Blackhawks jersey and his own little face. In no time, we were gathered around the dinner table scarfing Thai takeout, learning the names of various plastic dinosaurs, and singing a genius song called "Flavor Juice Fountain."

Yesterday afternoon, I came home. At the front door, I was met by a man and two tiny girls. My man. My girls. I was serenaded by a sweet chorus of "Mommy." And I dropped my suitcase and lost myself in hugs and kisses. And home.

This is it, I thought then and think now. This is what I want. This is what I have. This is what matters.

And when things grow more complicated again (oh and they will), when I begin to stress about blog traffic and book sales and jean sizes and renovation budgets, I will come back and read this post. I will read these clumsy words and remember the wonderful weekend I just enjoyed, and the realization that came with it. The realization that things can be quite simple if we let them be.

The realization that for me, family comes first. And always will.

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Have you had moments when you were struck by such realizations? Do you agree that all the bells and whistles of modernity distract us from what matters? Do you think that wandering away often makes us appreciate what we have at home?

I Am Scared

This About Sums It Up