Golis: In unsettling times, families count more than ever

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Our 2-year-old granddaughter is climbing a rope ladder several times her height, while her father scrambles to keep up and avert a calamity. About her fearlessness, he claims to be both proud and terrified.

Welcome to parenthood, we say.

There’s joy and satisfaction in watching your children become moms and dads. Their love, gentleness and sense of responsibility with their own children become confirmation that everything will be OK.

And what better time? With the daily drumbeat of reminders that our country is coming unstuck, we could use some reassurance.

We never expected to live in a nation where the policy of the federal government dictates the separation of small children from their mothers and fathers. In a compassionate country, it should not be difficult to detain illegal immigrants without doing lasting damage to their kids — or to what we believe as Americans.

In recent days, our family has been blessed with the opportunity to spend time together — grandparents, children, spouses, grandchildren. These become times to eat and reminisce, to see the sights and catch up on the latest news. When everyone is busy and living far apart, these gatherings don’t happen often enough.

We are a family like any other family, marked by its own idiosyncrasies and its own narratives. Some days bring great joy. Some days, not so much.

Still, we are bound together by love, laughs, shared experiences and memories of the times we looked out for each other.

Some readers will remember that one of our grandchildren weighed 2 pounds, 2 ounces at birth. Attached to assorted wires and tubes, she could fit in the palm of your hand. Her legs were the size of a man’s index finger.

It was a time when our combined families rallied round. All of us were busy taking care of business, but we were scared, too.

She will be 8 years old in a couple of weeks, and she is like every smart, curious and energetic 8-year-old. In her grandparents’ eyes, she is merely perfect.

We’re thankful for her, for the miracles of modern health care and for the love and perseverance that overcame one of life’s unhappy surprises.

From time to time, her mother still takes her back to the neonatal intensive care unit where she spent the first eight weeks of her life. These visits remind our granddaughter of her good fortune and show the people who work in that NICU why their skill and dedication mean the world to families in crisis.

There are words written on the wall of the waiting room outside that NICU: “Sometimes the smallest things take up the most room in your heart.”

The demagogues among us use the term “family values” to justify various forms of intolerance. (Some of the same people now remain silent while small children are taken from their parents and transported to makeshift institutions thousands of miles away.)

The real meaning of family values, of course, begins with the things we hold close to our hearts, including the compassion and courage to support one another in times of pain and uncertainty.

When our granddaughter was born 11 weeks before her due date, I wrote: “There have been so many emotions in conflict. We feel joy at her arrival, sadness that the baby is at risk, fear of what might happen and anxiety about how to deal with new and unpredictable demands.”

In tough times, this is what families do, whether they’re confronted with a cancer diagnosis, a premature birth or a broken heart.

Some will say it’s cheesy to write about families, and maybe so. Yet we all know of the times in which family made all the difference.

Inside the federal government, conflict and dysfunction have become endemic. If we’re hoping for news that inspires a sense of well-being, or the belief that everything will be OK, we’ll need to look elsewhere. Meanwhile, Sonoma County begins the long recovery from last October’s catastrophic fires.

So we fall back on what we know best — hometown, friends, neighbors, the people we love. We volunteer at our favorite community organization, we share stories with friends, and we take time for family. Whether it’s a summertime reunion, a college graduation, a Fourth of July picnic or the arrival of a new grandchild, these become moments that honor tradition and a future full of possibilities.

Before summer fades away, now would be good time to get together with family and friends and celebrate what you have together.

Pete Golis is a columnist for The Press Democrat. Email him at golispd@gmail.com

You can send a letter to the editor at letters@pressdemocrat.com

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