I admit it: I was naïve when I married my British-born husband. I thought that having family in another country would be fun, adventurous -- an excuse to fly off to Europe every so often. And for the most part, that's what it has been.
But in my starry-eyed, romantic affianced state, I didn't think about the expense. I guess I just assumed it would all work out. And for the most part, it has.
I grew up in Los Angeles, where I still live. However, my mom and dad and sister and her family moved long ago to Northern California. Like many other families, we shuttle between cities for the holidays.
We spent Thanksgiving as we always do, at my sister's home in Sacramento. For years, we've been trying to talk her and her husband into joining us on one of our visits to Britain. So she wasn't surprised when I brought up the subject in her comfortable new kitchen.
"You know, this time of year it's just $700 round trip," I told her.
She sighed. "The room addition cost a lot more than we budgeted," she said. "We're not taking any vacations any time soon."
My sister's family had outgrown their little house a long time ago, and they spent years planning the new space. It's beautiful. While I'm really happy for her, it's hard not to feel a little bit envious.
"You know, if we didn't fly off to Britain every 12 to 18 months, we would be able to afford a new kitchen, too," I said to my husband on the drive back to L.A.
"Yeah. I've thought of that," he said.
"It would be nice if your family would come and visit us for a change," I grumbled.
He didn't answer. We both understand why things are the way they are. It costs a lot more for a family of five to fly overseas than it does for the three of us. And after all, he is the one who moved away from them. We're the ones who have the need to travel, to stay in touch, to make sure our daughter has a relationship with all of her grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins.
Three weeks later, we were drinking tea at my brother-in-law's home. And even though I understand why they haven't come to California since our wedding 14 years ago (before any of the kids were born), I could not help myself. "You know," I said to my sister-in-law, "the weak dollar makes the United States a vacation bargain."
"We want to take you to Disneyland before the boys get too old to enjoy it."
She sighed. "You know we want to come. We talk about it all the time. We just can't do it until we've finished our extension."
Our families on both sides of the Atlantic are almost mirror images. My sister and my brother-in-law each have three children and both have spent years in cramped little houses. Now, the other side of the family will be putting all of their resources into a major home add-on, including a large, modern kitchen.
I cannot think of anyone who deserves it more than my sister-in-law, who recently completed a chef's training course and manages to turn out five-course meals for 10 in a tiny kitchen that's about the size of my closet.
I'm happy they're doing it. I really am. I'm just sorry we won't be able to return their hospitality to us anytime soon.
As we were having this conversation, my two youngest nephews and my daughter bounded into the room, laughing at some silly joke they had between them. They grabbed some biscuits and bounced back out, to play together some more.
My sister-in-law smiled. "The boys were so excited when they learned you were coming for Christmas. They couldn't wait to see you all."
I smiled too.
A new kitchen would be nice. But moments like this are priceless.
Donna is a San Fernando Valley wife and mother.