Oh, Vero Beach, Florida: we meet again. My family and I are on our annual pilgrimage to see my in-laws. It’s a particular sort of vacation, one that gives you one type of freedom (kiddo with the grandparents while a do-not-disturb sign hangs on the hotel room door in the middle of the afternoon, if you catch my drift) while robbing you of another (dinner is at Grandma’s—you will have the Cornish game hen). My husband’s family has been coming to Vero Beach since 1918. My son Caleb is the sixth generation to come here.
Which makes me connected to the town, but in a weird way. My husband can locate the house that his great-great grandfather built in 1925. I can locate A1A (“A1A, Beach Front Avenue!” as one Mr. V. Ice might say.) I’ve been coming here for almost twenty years now, but it still doesn’t feel familiar. The flatness, the strange vegetation, the radio stations that play all oldies all the time, oh my! My connection here feel complicated, both shallow and permanent.
Although I’m betting that’s the nature of families in general. We’ve been publishing Brain, Child magazine for eleven and a half years now, and from the get-go, we’ve been drawn to work that looks at how we all connect.
In Sarah Ivy’s “Before This,” from Spring 2011 issue, she writes of her new baby and husband, and the three children had with her ex. “When I found out I was pregnant with Tom’s baby, I dreaded telling John, and put it off for weeks. I didn’t want to hurt him in the Being-the-Father Department. Because in between the lines of our divorce had always been this: Our marriage hadn’t worked, but we had created three lovely, kind children together, and we held the pride and delight of this as a sort of balm to the wound of our divorce,” she writes. “We wouldn’t be married anymore, but we would still be these children’s parents, and I believed there was still a kind of union to that, one that could perhaps endure despite the fact that our marriage could not.”
I loved Sarah’s essay because it got at all the complicated and not so complicated ways we define a family. And holy hell, there are so, so many. Our Fall 2011 issue features a terrific essay by Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser about her family’s open adoption. “We were amazed that extended family we’d never heard of and family friends immediately accepted how we fit into the larger assemblage gathered around bride and groom,” she writes. “More than once, Caroline’s stepmother pulled us inside to meet someone. When she introduced me, she said, ‘This is Caroline’s daughter, Saskia and Saskia’s mother, Sarah.’ … These people I’d known for a relatively short period managed to be family, for real, and almost but not quite family.”
Before we came down this year, my husband ran across this link, written by my grandma-in-law. I’d heard some of the stories before, but I stared hard at the pictures. I enlarged that last one, the one of my grandma-in-law as a little girl, standing with her mother on the beach. I have plenty of pictures of Caleb and me in the same pose, and I realized that Doris Evans, my son’s great-great grandma, was also an in-law. She found herself in love with a person whose family had that wanderlust. She started a family. And whatever she did is living on, in the form of the boy on the hotel pull-out couch behind me.
—Jennifer Niesslein, co-founder of Brain, Child magazine
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