Extended family / Family / Travel

Defining Family

I was 15 when I asked my parents how Uncle Dave was related to us.  They looked at each other a bit perplexed. It wasn’t that this was some tawdry secret; I think they had just never considered how having your child call someone “Uncle Dave” for her entire life could make her think that said person was a blood relation.

Uncle Dave and I have no blood relation. He was my parents’ Philosophy teacher and their friend. He was ordained shortly after they got married or he would have married them. He did, in fact, participate in practically every other religious event in our lives. He stopped by on vacation. We visited him when back on the East Coast. He married my sister (as the priest not as the spouse).  Despite me deciding not to marry in a church or have a prayer said at our ceremony, he attended my wedding and sat right next to my Mom.

Once I figured out the lack of blood relation to Uncle Dave, I started to look around and found that I had a lot of family members who were not technically family!  My teenage self thought about this for awhile and I came to a very simple conclusion: family is who you choose to love and who loves you back. Family is what you make it.

I have always been very inclusive in my idea of family, an idea clearly passed down from my folks. If you are a close enough friend, you become family. I travel the world, but I carry you with me.

Turns out, I am passing the idea down to my daughter too. Yesterday, she asked if she had any Aunties. I said “Of course! Do you remember who?” She thought about it and remembered: Auntie Elaine who gave her the toy elephant she sometimes sleeps with, Aunt Erin who gave her cousins, Aunt Kevin who should have been called Uncle, and Aunt Ann who she will see in a few weeks. It is a good list of people who love her and people she loves and 75% of them are not blood relatives.

Happy Thanksgiving! Hope you are spending it with your family however you define the term.

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  1. Absolutely perfect =).

    Growing up I was basically an only child, I have step-sisters on my dad’s side but I’ve never lived with, or spent anything more than summers with them. Since I lived in the northwest US for the longest time, I was thousands of miles away from any “real” aunties my kiddos may have had but I sure had some good friends. Their favorite aunty is my best friend Sarah, and they love their Aunty Amanda too. She’s actually my partner’s cousin. Anybody willing to love us for who we are is welcome in our family and we’re definitely planning on teaching that to our kids.

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