Stepping off the plane, we felt the crisp breeze pierce our skin. The light air of California was gone for now as we stepped into the dark of Michigan. Our flight from California to Michigan had us traveling from 12pm on the West coast and getting into Grand Rapids at 12am east coast time. The temperature changed drastically as we moved from west to east. A pretty severe difference from 60 degrees in the Bay Area to a snowy 30 degrees in GR. I always pack accordingly, but for some reason I always feel like I’m still under dressed for the temperature change. The wind always seems to cut through layers of clothing. Almost as it’s laughing at your challenge to Mother Nature. Gathering our belongings we headed toward the doors to wait for our ride. As the doors opened to the airport curbside pickup, we quickly shuffled back into the doors of the airport. It’s cold out there! We decided to wait inside for our ride. My brother came driving up several minutes later. Driving his SUV up to the curb. Memories of our relationship quickly came to the forefront as I saw the smile on his face. We had grown up together and our relationship had changed over the years. It went from him being my big brother, who practiced wresting moves on me, or spiced my pizza with hot sauce without me knowing, to a deeper friendship than I ever could have imagined. Being four years separated, it’s surprising that 4 years as you age, reduces in length. Our four years used to serve as worlds apart, now just a flicker of time in the grand scheme of the universe. We rode to his house quickly as it was only miles away from the airport. Pulling up to his house, I thought of his parking space. These serve as a perfect parking spot for a lot of my family while on vacation. My brother welcomes it, because it’s an opportunity to see family. As we walked through the garage and into the house, I knew I was in for a special trip to see family. Waking in the morning, we made our way to Mt. Pleasant. My home through most of my years on this earth. It’s where my mother and stepfather live. We met up at their place right outside the city. My stepfather screaming a hello out the window to all of us as we exited the vehicle. Entering into my mothers house is like going back into time as a child. Even though their house currently is not the house we grew up in, the pictures collected all across the house serve as a reminder of family. A picture is worth more than a 1,000 words, it’s a look back into an overhaul of emotions that you might have felt at the time. They can make you remember who you are and where you came from. As much as I’ve grown in life, sometimes looking back at who I was provides a stronger dose of reality on growing up. The nights that my mother would stay waiting up all night, just to make sure that I came home safe. The birthday parties with friends. My mom would use the same Superman cake mold and altered it to whatever interest we had that year. Hulk Hogan would quickly transform into Dan Marino or Steve Yzerman the next year. She would always find a way to make it feel special. I feel like I might have dismissed this as a child. Thinking that it was what any parent would do. As I’ve grown, I’ve found that it’s far from normal. It takes an insane amount of love for someone to take the time to make them feel special, regardless of the time or recognition received. We took her out for her birthday that evening and had a wonderful time, picture perfect memories made. The next morning we scanned through old photo albums of us growing up. The drawings did as children or the awkward outfits we wore. Every awkward photo was proceeded with a quick remark from a family member. I think I had forgotten how good we had it. There was a whole lot of love experienced. The trip later on that day was to Frankenmuth to see my best friend and head to a wedding. Memories of walking through this Bavarian style town as a child. My brother falling off the polar bear at Bronners and being scarred for life because of it! The dinners at the Bavarian Inn with my family to celebrate my grandparents anniversaries. It served its purpose this trip as a sentimental ideal. Coming back to the city that we all met at as children. Now for a wedding of my cousin who was so young at the time, but also an experience with the new generation of children. Watching my best friends family intermingle with my family like old times. Such a powerful reminder of what’s so important in life. The excitement on the kids eyes as they slid down the water slides, or trying to figure out what prize they would purchase with their tickets that they won. Clarity hits strong when you see the world through this different lens. It hits you like a freight train without brakes. It was priceless. The wedding came and my wife finally met a large part of my mothers side of the family. Comparing baby bumps with my cousins as we walked across the dance floor. We danced, we laughed, we celebrated a joining of two wonderful people. Looking around the room at my cousins, uncles and aunts, I guess I forgot how this felt. As a kid meeting with everyone was for a special occasion, and I shrugged it off in a way. Another day outside of my comfort of doing the same thing over and over. Now to experience moments like this, it felt almost like a missing link in my heart. Something so simple as seeing a cousin and catching up on their life. Watching my niece belt out “we don’t talk about Bruno” or dancing the cha cha slide on the dance floor. Simple, sweet and memorable. Finally ending our trip back in GR where it all began. My fathers side of our family coming over for the last two days. Family became all too clear. Watching my wife sit at the table with my stepmom and sisters talking about childbirth. Years of being a parent were being shared across generations. All ages of children at the house at the time. My brothers and sisters grown up into adults, speaking of parenting young children and teens. Culminating to speak about my unborn child sleeping soundly in the womb. Pure innocence in its most amazing form. Shopping the next day my wife and I bought some clothing for our unborn child. A few outfits from Oshkosh that were similar to what I wore in some photos we looked at that week. Later on my wife took my niece to buy some ripped denim that she wanted. A cool new look for school the next day. I was around my teenage niece as she also shopped. Making her selections, she made her way up to the register. Fumbling for her cash to pay for a hippie style of denim that she longed for. Out of the corner of my eye, I watched the transaction. As she counted the dead presidents that lay in her hand, I found it necessary to act on the moment. Before finding the right amount, I quickly slipped my credit card into the machine. I gave her a smile and her eyes lit up in joy. The reaction she had was worth 10 pairs of denim. Everything was starting to feel like it had come full circle. Our trip to Michigan came at a pivotal time. My wife soon entering her third trimester of pregnancy. A mothers birthday and a family wedding. All served a purpose in my mind as I look back at the trip. A trip that was simple, yet laid a perfect foundation for my thoughts on parenting. There are civilizations that still live out the important role of family in their parenting habits. Close knit communities where the grandparents, uncles, cousins, all live within a close vicinity to one another. It serves as a unified approach to childcare. When stressed and unsure of what to do with a new child, the experienced members give their expertise on the matter. As families grow further apart geographically, it becomes harder to be a parent, because the support system isn’t there for these necessary teaching moments. My trip to Michigan reminds me of the importance of family to a newborn child. It’s interesting that a small week away from work, serves as a lifetime of experience with parenting. Moments that I never knew I longed for, nor did I fully appreciate until now.
Chris Hetrick: Author & Photographer.