Diary of a Marriage: A Family Affair

What I wanted: a big, raucous Italian family. What I got: a pretty fantastic little group of seven.

Photo courtesy of ThinkStock.com.

My college roommate, Marcella, has the family I always thought I wanted. The Federico clan is a great big loud bunch. They all live very close to one another in the same Connecticut neighborhood, and they drink lots of red wine and eat heaps of pasta and make espresso at 11 o’clock at night. They hold massive feasts every single Sunday, with aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents taking turns crowding around a huge dining room table, with piles and piles of food at the center of it all. They talk loudly and always over each other—sometimes breaking seamlessly into Italian—and they laugh even louder.

I spent countless weekends at the Federico house, and I loved it. The front door would swing open throughout the day and an aunt would whirl in, or a cousin would barrel through the house to the backyard pool, or one of her four siblings would run in yelling for someone. I was there both mornings Marcella’s older sisters got married, trying to tuck myself into whatever place I was needed—running a tube of mascara here, helping the bride into her corset there—and I was at the house the morning Marcella got married. The Federico home was a flurry of constant energy, and it was exciting.

My house was quite different. Instead of seven of us, there were only four. My mom made tilapia and Jell-O molds, and we rarely ate pasta. We hardly saw our extended family, most of which live in Connecticut and Maryland, and when we did see them, it was a big to-do, with china, starched linens, lots of forks, and classical music playing in the background. We were on our best behavior during family gatherings, and our grandparents terrified us. Our family was close, of course, but in a quieter way. And, in college, I much preferred the Federico way.

Perhaps that’s why I dated a lot of Italian boys, ones with big, gregarious families who could throw together feasts for 17 people on a whim—paper plates and folding chairs and ketchup bottles on the table and no pretenses. And then I married J. … and got a family of three.

Dammit, I thought. I’ve got four in my family, and he’s got three. That only brings us to seven people, and that’s hardly enough to start a Federico-type clan. I wanted loudness! And Italian! And pasta! I wanted our kids to grow up with grandparents at their soccer games, and an entire squad of cheering aunts and uncles at ballet recitals. I wanted a big, obnoxious, messy crew of people swarming in for Thanksgiving.

Lately, though, I’ve started to think that we’ve got it pretty easy. We don’t have to split up holidays; we’re a small enough group that we can easily combine families for Thanksgiving. Plus, it’s enough work to keep up with the seven of us; I can’t imagine keeping up with thirty. We don’t have grandparents pressuring us to have a baby, or nieces and nephews to baby-sit, or forty Christmas pageants to go to in the next month. There’s no constant crowd of people clamoring for our attention, so we can spend quiet weekends with our friends who have become like family. Anyway, I’ve done the math, and if my sister and I have a few kids each, we’ll get our number up to at least thirteen (and that’s not even counting her in-laws!), so by the time we have grandkids, our family will be nearing Federico proportions.

But I’m in no rush for all of that. After all, when our little family is seated around a table of tilapia and Jell-O molds, we can get pretty loud.

Do you and your fiance or husband combine families for holidays? If you don’t, how do you swing making time for both of them?


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