Those Summers, These Days

A woman who grew up near her grandmother’s farm with a large extended family recalls her childhood, and how things will be different for her children and their children as her family shrinks. (A Best American Essays 2012 notable essay):

This shift is evident in our family.  Counting spouses and not counting our cousins’ kids, I have 17 aunts and uncles and 22 cousins on my side of the family, and Brandon has ten aunts and uncles and 16 cousins on his side.  On the other hand, my three kids have two uncles and an aunt on my side, with hopes of cousins, someday, and an aunt and uncle and two cousins on my husband’s side.  And that’s it.  Our family is gradually shrinking.

As more families choose to have two or fewer children, the population is beginning to plateau.  I don’t know what that means economically, but I know for me it means a growing void.  As our family ages and our grandparents pass away, there will come a time when the large extended family will no longer get together for every holiday; with the patriarchs and matriarchs alive only in our jokes and memories, we will eventually begin to celebrate special occasions with our more immediate family.  Fifty of my grandma’s descendants attended her 80th birthday party.  Today, celebrating my dad’s birthday with just his offspring would include five children and three grandchildren.

“Those Summers, These Days.” — Sarah M. Wells, Ascent