I’d like to tell you that my family is crazy, but that’s hardly headline news. Whose family isn’t? But in mine there seems to be more drama than in most. In fact, one day I might write a book about it.
As just an example, my grandmother calls us non-stop to talk about the same subject on repeat—namely, what we can do to help our extended family get along. She’s a veritable broken record and I’m embarrassed to admit that we often have to hang up while she’s still talking . . . about why our family doesn’t get along. Then there’s my dad who considers himself an amateur private investigator. He recently tracked down a long-lost cousin without even knowing about LinkedIn or having a Facebook account. My gutsy sister showed up at our cousin’s office unannounced to touch base after 15 years.
There was the time one of my brothers, a contractor, was involved in renovating my sister’s house; they ended up in such a fight that even years later they enjoy making digs at one another. The rest of us roll our eyes and hope they will move on. There were times growing up when my three siblings and I wished we were our parents’ only children, or that one or the other of us, depending on the day and the argument, wasn’t born. Even though we are all in our 30s now, sometimes we still tell our parents the same thing. We will never stop being their children.
But I recently read a touching piece in the New York Times Modern Love column about siblings and the importance of that sibling bond. About how siblings are a family within a family, and how that bond stretches back to the day each of us was born. We might remember our childhood stories from our own unique perspectives, and we might still have our personal beefs, but we’ve been in one another’s lives since day one. We were there for each other when we learned to walk and talk. We were one another’s first playmates and best friends. We took family vacations together. We have memories of chasing our babysitters around with chopsticks.
There was the time one babysitter accidentally mixed ground beef with chocolate chip cookie dough and I insisted my sister eat a meat-cookie so we wouldn’t hurt the babysitter’s feelings. There was another time my youngest brother wanted hot dog buns to go with his hot dog, but I told him I wouldn’t take him for buns unless he ate the loaf of bread my mom had just made or we’d be wasting food. By the time he finished the entire loaf, one peanut butter sandwich at a time, we drove to the store only to discover it was closed. We still chuckle about how he never got his hot dog buns. We were there when we learned to drive and when one of us had a car accident—in our driveway. We were there for our engagements, weddings, children and divorces.
We might have made friends who are more our style or with whom we have more in common, but nobody else in the world knows our inside jokes. Nobody else but us knows what it was like to play catch on our front lawn with my dad. What it was like to get home past curfew to find our mother pacing the halls in her bathrobe, the look of anger, then relief, on her face. This is what makes us family.
I’ve been thinking about this more lately, now that one of my brothers just became a dad. We are all parents now, and his daughter was the last of the cousins to join our family. Nobody knows more than us the importance of her arrival; how desperately she was wanted. My brother was meant to be a dad. He was good with kids when he was a kid himself. He’s a great uncle. Just this past weekend, he spent a day with my six-year-old barbecuing ribs for our family Super Bowl party. They had a blast making ribs, watching a movie while the meat grilled slowly on the smoker, having hot chocolate, and teasing Alexa, the new version of Siri that basically operates my brother’s house.
We might be loud. We might fight. We might have crazy stories and a crazy grandmother. But these are the things that unite us through good and bad and every high and low. This is what family means to me. I wouldn’t trade any of them or wish that any of us never existed. Finally, this must be music to our parents’ ears.