Big Family

This semester has been a strange one. This is a teaching leave for both Jodi and me. At SMU, we get such a leave after our third year, to work on the things that need attention ahead of our tenure reviews. I’ve been spending most of my time at CERN (the past month has been an annoying but fruitful exception). Jodi has not. As a result, we’re probably seeing each other for 1 month out of 7 for the first 7 months of this year. That 1 month is spread over the whole 7, sometimes in weekends, sometimes in whole weeks. We also realized early on this year that there would be no time for a August vacation week, which we’ve done for the past few years. Between the summer conferences and workshops, my return from CERN, and the start of teaching, there just isn’t time to have a proper vacation.

In March, I made my first trip back to the States since January. Then, I came back to deliver a Fermilab “Wine and Cheese” seminar, which is a very engaging and exciting series of talks where the audience is notoriously relentless with questions. I had a great time. When I returned to Dallas after the seminar, I stayed for a week to participate in the physics department’s Lighter Symposium, this year dedicated to the involvement of Texas and Oklahoma physicists in the discovery of the Higgs boson.

I return to CERN for 10 days, and then again returned to the U.S. The first week of my time back in the States was spent as 1 day in Dallas (mowed the lawn) and then 7 in California at a U.C. Davis Higgs/SUSY workshop. I was invited to speak on the ATLAS and CMS efforts to identify additional Higgs particles in nature. When I returned to Dallas, Jodi has also just come back from shifted on her experiment in Minnesota. We spent a day in Dallas and then flew to Connecticut for a few days of rest together before heading to New Jersey for my sister’s wedding.

My sister was married closer to her husband’s family, which is large. The wedding was small, but the vast majority of guests were from the groom’s side. Everybody seemed to have a good time, and over night I found my pool of sisters-in-law more than doubled. My family is not a “big family” – we don’t have family gatherings, we don’t tend to congregate in large groups. Things are small and private on my side of the family. Jodi’s family, and now my sister’s husband’s family, are stark contrasts. They are “big families” – lots of siblings, everybody knows the cousins, they gather together for big events. I now have two big families, one through my own marriage and one via my sister’s marriage. I like both of them a LOT, and so I look forward to spending time with them again.

Becoming part of a “big family” is a unique experience. It’s like joining a gang or a club. You start to see all their little secret rituals. For instance, the “toast” delivered by my new brother-in-law’s sisters at the wedding was in the form of a dance and song routine. It was elaborate, with all of the sisters and their husbands (where married) involved, and with props and costumes and a playlist. This, apparently, is totally normal for them.

Don’t get me wrong – I love my family – but I find myself supercharged by “big families.” It’s a contrast to the way I grew up, with just my sister and me as siblings, knowing our grandparents and a few aunts and uncles on my father’s side of the family. Now that I have access to big families through my own marriage and my sister’s marriage, it’s wonderful to see how they differ from smaller, more private families.

While I have spent the last month essentially continuously jet-lagged, the past week has been rejuvenating. Yes, it’s not really a vacation – I was still working in the car using my iPad and its 4G network connection, and attending meetings whenever possible. But I feel a little bit more rested having spent time with Jodi and with family. Now I just have to survive getting back to CERN, so I can get back into the swing of things again. I am very much looking forward to that. I have missed CERN. But I also know that when I return, I will miss home as well.

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