Family is something that continually baffles me. I get the concept of it. I see it all over the place, but it's something I have a serious lack of experience with. Biological family I'm talking about.
Growing up, it was really just me, my two siblings and my parents with an occasional visit from my aunt and uncle (Dad's brother and his wife.) When I was young, we would make one or two trips a year to visit with my Mom's family, but they stopped happening in my early teens. This was really all I knew about having family. And because that's all I grew up with, that was normal. Seeing people who had all these cousins they would hang out with or spending lots of time with their grandparents just confused me. That, to me, was abnormal. And still to this day it is. I see it, I'm kind of envious of it, but I don't really get it.
Recently, my concept of family started making a lot more sense to me. My cousin was throwing a surprise 70th birthday party for her mother (Mom's older sister). Her birthday was in March, but the party was in May. I really wanted to go, even though I would be a virtual stranger there. Since Mom passed, I've been trying to stay in touch with my extended family and I thought this would be a good way to do it. We got to the party a little early, walked in and I didn't recognize a soul. Not that I would recognize many. I hadn't been up that way (the boonies in Connecticut) in longer than I could remember. I was probably 13. But I was hoping someone I knew would be there already. Ken and I picked a table and had a seat. Eventually, my Aunt Cheryl and her wife showed up and they made a beeline to us. At least there was someone to talk to and that eased the awkwardness of it all. By the time the party kicked off, there were finally people there I knew. My two cousins. My cousin Todd's two kids and wife. The birthday girl. And that's all I knew. At one point I turned to my Aunt Cheryl and said "You'll need to point out how I'm related to some of these people." Her reply was priceless. "I was hoping you'd be able to do that for me." And she wasn't kidding. Even though she lives a couple miles away from everyone else in that room (and has for her entire life), I knew more people than she did. Case in point, my Aunt Tootsie (birthday girl) at one point brought her sister over to "meet" me (I haven't seen her since I was probably 7 years old) and to meet Cheryl, her own sister. For real. They haven't seen each other in just as long, if not longer. It was at that point that everything really made sense. I always thought I was an outsider because I lived so far away from the rest of my family and didn't know them. But they all live very close to one another and they don't know each other. This was the first time that Cheryl's wife has met any of her family and they've been together for over twenty years. My aunt Lorraine said it best when she said besides Tootsie, the only people at the party she knew were the people sitting at her table. I came to realize that my entire family are just people that I happen to share some biology with. It's fucked up, but it really took an enormous load off my mind.
I've tried staying in touch with relatives since. I've exchanged a couple emails with my Aunt Lorraine. I found out I have three cousins through her. Cheryl invited Ken and I to come to Thanksgiving at their house. It's just the two of them every year and it's usually just the two of us, so we're going to do it. I'm looking forward to it.
When people say that family is what you make it, they couldn't be more right. I have friends who I'm way closer to and that I consider "real" family moreso than the people I'm related to. I'm working on changing that a little, though. I'm nearly fifty years old and I hate that it's taken me this long to get to work on knowing my relatives.