Sam Wagner: Keeping up connections, and making new ones

Lately, I’ve been thinking about family. There’s a number of reasons for it, I’m sure, whether it’s the holidays coming up, or COVID making it difficult to travel, but I would guess it’s because my brother and sister-in-law recently welcomed a new baby, a little girl named Caroline. And just like that, my world expanded.

Of course, I haven’t been able to meet the baby in person, the multistate trip is still a work in progress. But, the videos of her sleeping and the stream of photos are enough for now. More than that, though, seeing all this change has made me confront the idea that my family has now gotten bigger, that there is someone new to protect, to care for, where before there wasn’t. It’s a simple, obvious concept, perhaps drawn into relief by the strange circumstances of the world.

For a while now, I’ve felt like my family has been one size, the boundaries neatly defined. It was just me, my parents and my brother and sister-in-law, and has been for years. I knew where my love had to be placed. Of course, that only counts if you include my personal family. If you expand to cousins and beyond, there are nearly countless members of the extended family, rarely seen since I’ve moved away. There’s only a handful of the 50-plus of my family who I’m fully aware of, the names of anyone younger than the age of 10 likely a mystery. In many ways, my family is constantly expanding with second and third cousins, the sphere of joy an ever-growing phenomenon.

Then, of course, there are the friends and chosen family that span the country, ones from college that have moved back closer to each other or left to be hours away, and those that work here at The Aspen Times. All degrees of family, all connections that are necessary, and so hard to maintain, when simply leaving your house can be an ordeal.

It seems almost silly, trying to explain what a family is, as if it’s a foreign concept. But the topic is one to ponder on. I think it’s been on my mind lately because introducing little Caroline into the mix has made me focus more on the other aspects of my family. Knowing my attention must be paid in a new direction highlights the other areas that are important, and that may have been neglected while navigating the current world. The newest responsibilities highlighting my old ones.

I’ll now have to adjust from worrying about my parents retiring and searching for their next adventure, and instead worry about protecting and teaching a young child (at least in a few years time). Rather than trying to keep up with where my closest friends have moved to and what they’re doing, I’ll have to start remembering important dates, milestones, accomplishments. On top of finding ways to deal with coworkers moving away or searching for other jobs, I’ll be taking on new and expanded jobs myself — the role of mentor, of a closer brother, of someone who needs to be relied on now and in the future. I’ll be forced to miss the proverbial forest for the trees, if you will. Willingly and lovingly, of course, but regretfully.

If I could slightly shift in idea, I think I’ve missed one of the requirements of a personal column while writing this — that is, explaining the whole point. So, the gist is this: My family has grown, and it is truly awe-inspiring in the purest sense. But, it’s also jolted my thoughts, and I’ve realized that, during COVID, my other families have perhaps been left to the wayside. Not out of malevolence or indifference but necessity.

My hope is that, in reading this, others may have a similar jolt and recognize friends and family who might enjoy a reconnection.

After all, family, no matter what kind, is one of the most important parts of life.

Sam Wagner is a copy editor at The Aspen Times. Email him at