With the holiday season right on top of me, it's hard for me not to think about my family. My screwed up, dysfunctional, absent family. I have wrestled my whole life with trying to figure out where I fit in. It's a long story, and you probably wouldn't believe it if I told you, so I will do my best to just give you a quick outline. My dad was married and had five kids (one outside his marriage), and my mom was married and had two, both with different fathers, and in 1973, they married each other. I was born in 1978, the youngest by eight years. My dad was significantly older than my mother, so I have siblings old enough to be my parents...Anyway... My parents were divorced when I was five, and my mom remarried instantly. A few years later, my dad remarried his first wife. And it all rolls downhill from there.
Most of my siblings were either adults, or close to it by the time I was born, so I have had very little contact with them. In fact, I have several nieces and nephews that are near my age that I would be more likely to connect with, or so you would think. My step-mother has always treated me like I was an unwanted interruption in her life, so we have never had a relationship worth talking about. I had one sister who used to have me come stay with her from time to time, and I thought that was a bond I could count on. In the last year I have come to realize that there is a big difference between "family" and "relatives."
Last June my husband and I moved our family to Billings, following his job one more time. It was close to family, his and mine, and we thought it would be a good move. As an adult, I wanted to reach out to my brother, two sisters, and numerous nieces and nephews who live here in town. For once I wanted to feel like I had a place in this family. I felt the need to get to know them, to have a reason to love them, to finally have a connection. It became much harder for me to want after my dad died four years ago, but I decided to give it a try.
Last year we spent Thanksgiving and Christmas at my sister's house. My kids loved her family, and especially playing with the dogs. We went trick-or-treating there, and hunted Easter eggs there. They bought Boy Scout popcorn from my son, magazines and Girl Scout cookies from my daughter, and stayed at my house one night when I had to take my infant to the ER. And on Memorial Day, I posted a status update on Facebook about missing my dad and not even having a grave to visit (he was cremated), and two of my nieces twisted it around and fed it to my step-mother. It got completely out of hand to the point that I had to call her and fight to explain myself, to justify why I had the right to my feelings. And that was the end.
After that incident, I was asked to not have any contact with them anymore. My kids ask me several times a week if they can go to Auntie's house. How am I supposed to explain to them that Auntie doesn't want to be our family anymore? That the cousins they had grown to love threw that popcorn, those cookies, and other "favors" they had done back in my face and broken my heart? Just this afternoon my almost seven year old daughter asked if we were going back for Thanksgiving next week. What should I say to her?
I guess what it comes down to is this: I will have to explain to my children the difference between family and relatives. You don't have to be related to someone to love and be loved by them. Your relatives don't have to love you just because they should. Blood isn't always thicker than water, as the saying would have us believe. Sometimes friendship is more than that, and a last name in common is merely a coincidence.
It's taken a heartbreak, but now I know who my family is.