Monday, June 9, 2014
That was how I saw my mom's family. Most of them are in Indiana and as far as I know, there's still a massive family reunion each July 4th at the family farm. Just one of my cousins has a dozen children, so I imagine it's a pretty overwhelming clan.
That was how I saw my dad's family. They were a close knit group of four siblings - my grandmother, her brother and two sisters - and they spent every single summer together in a little farmhouse in upstate New York. The cousins grew up like brothers and sisters. Even some of the cousins of my generation are that close.
I'm an outsider in both groups, comfortable on the fringes. I was an only child and my mother was separated from her family by geography while my father kept a distance from his family by temperament. I have loved them all, but at arm's length.
Yet I have my own extended family. There comes a time when all of us have to widen that definition.
For us, it's kids and parents. My son stayed with us a few summers ago when life was weighing heavily on him and he needed some time to be a kid again. He made the most of that hiatus and roared back into life with all engines firing.
KB's son stayed with us for a short time, too. He had some family issues to sort out and needed a little space to do it. He did, and he's back to his life.
Now KB's mother is here just for a few days, recuperating after a serious hospitalization and not yet ready to go home. We're sharing hosting duties with his sister, and it's an opportunity for everyone to get to know each other better, to talk openly, to maybe be a little better than we were before as a group.
Here's the funny thing - they're all family. And not by blood or even marriage.
KB and I are family. We chose not to get married; we've done that, we don't choose to do it again. So his family is not technically my family. But I find myself being treated like family and behaving like family. It's okay.
My son isn't related to KB. But KB has treated him like family, welcomed him, welcomed my daughter, welcomed their significant others.
One of my dearest friends is my wonderful former father-in-law's second wife. She's no blood relation to any of us. But she has been a magnificent grandmother to my children and the best mother-in-law anyone can ask for.
Since my mother's death, she is the closest thing I have to a mother.
None of us is an individual living together in a vaccuum. We accept the friends and families we bring along and understand the obligations that may mean. We accept it with as much grace as we can muster and we do the best we can because that is what decent human beings do for each other.
I aspire above all things to be a decent human being. I think it's the one thing we owe the world in exchange for the space we occupy.