Tuesday, December 7, 2010

We Are Family

I've been thinking a lot about family lately. Obviously, it's only natural to do so around the holidays. It probably also has something to do with the grandmothers of both of my childhood best friends passing away within the last month, talking to my brother on the phone from New Zealand the other day (he's in NZ, not me, though I do wish it were reversed), spending more time with my sister lately, and my mother experiencing some health issues.

All of these occurances have brought home to me just how important family is and how most of us don't appreciate it enough, at least not until they are gone.

My family is very small - my mom is an only child and I don't have any contact with my dad's side, so (aside from a few cousins) it's pretty much myself, my sister, my two brothers, my mom and my grandmother (who will be 94 next year, I might add). When I was younger, I always used to envy my friends' huge families with their multiple generations and loud, boisterous family gatherings. But as I have gotten older (and arguably wiser) I have learned that sometimes quality is better than quantity. I have learned to appreciate my tiny family and be grateful for it. My family may be small, but the family I do have is close, and we all support each other (which, I think, is something many of us also forget to do when it comes to our families too).

My mom is my hero - she has survived two abusive marriages, raised 4 kids basically on her own (one with special needs) *no, I mean my sister, not me, smart ass...though I AM rather special* and has faced countless setbacks in her life without backing down or losing her sense of humour. Without a doubt, I am the mature, independent woman I am today thanks in large part to her influence. Don't get me wrong, she annoys me to no end sometimes and I'm sure I've pissed her off a couple of times (though usually it's her that starts it, let's be honest here) but it's mostly because we're so much alike (ugh, scary but true).

My sister is 5 years older than me, but since she has Down's Syndrome, I've always sort of been employed in the "older sister" role. She can be difficult and frustrating sometimes, but she can also be very sweet and funny. We have always bickered, just as any sisters normally do, but when it comes right down to it I love her very much. Let's put it this way: if anyone hurts her, they will have my fists to answer to (and if those fail me, I always have my rapier whit to fall back on - just ask a couple of boys from my elementary school, as they have experienced this wrath first-hand).

There is a large age gap between my two brothers and I (15-20 years) and I didn't actually grow up living with them beyond age two, but I still feel that I can count on them for whatever I need. They are far away (one is in Vancouver, one in New Zealand) but never far from my thoughts. I love that we can pick up the phone and chat just like months haven't gone by and that I'm so similar to both in many ways, even though we have barely spent an extended period of time together since I was a baby (certainly a strong argument for nature vs. nurture). Besides, I have a free B&B if I ever visit BC or NZ - huzzah!

I'd be lying if I said my grandmother was my favourite person growing up - long story short, lets just say we haven't always gotten along for many reasons and I have always had trouble understanding and sympathizing with her. Honestly, I still find her difficult to be around at times, but she has "mellowed" SO much with age it's still kind of dumb-founding. I've learned a lot about her and as such understand her more now than I ever have. I've realized that sometimes people shouldn't be judged so harshly because you have no idea what they have been through in life that has made them that way. Plus, I'm fascinated by her in a way - she looks probably 15 years younger than she actually is, still runs all her own errands and keeps her own house, AND still has all of her faculties. If she is any indication, I'm going to be one hot old lady!

Bottom line is, there are good and bad things about all my family members, just as there are good and bad things about me (though I can't really think of any bad right now). Sure, our family gatherings aren't loud and quirky and hilariously dysfunctional, but they are still fun. I never have to deal with people bugging me how my love life is, when I'm going to get married, what the heck is up with my hair/outfit/job, how I'm getting fat, and in addition they are not embarassing in the least (though they certainly can be if they really try).

I love that we are not traditional (single mom, disabled sister, gay brother married to a man from India...I'm pretty much the only normal one), and in my mind no family is "traditional". Every single one is different, and what makes every single one a "family" is different too. I hate that non-traditional families are still not fully accepted in our society, even though no one can really define what "traditional" is. Who cares what your family looks like or who is included in it, as long as you love and support each other and are contributing positively to each others' lives? *um, denouncers of gay marriage, are you listening?!*

When it comes to family, blood has something to do with it, but in my opinion it has more to do with the heart.

What is your family like? What do you like best/least about your family? Do you normally spend your holidays with them, and if so, what do you do?


Wendy said...

Kim, Thanks for this post. I thoroughly enjoyed your take on family. I hadn't realized how many similarities we have regarding your older brothers & my older sisters etc. And the fact that my girls are so similar to you & Kath! As I get older, I too try to be more understanding of people. And our small family out here is "normal" to us even though I do miss the crowd back home. But it has always been the 4 of us where ever we have lived and now we are very happy to make it 5 as Tom joins us. In years to come as we may move again, you will always be able to look into each of our hearts and what you will find will be FAMILY! It is what keeps us grounded, has shaped us & has given us the love that always holds us together through thick & thin. And Kim... thanks for being part of our family. xoxo

Kim Humes said...

Aw thanks Wendy! What a lovely comment! I'm with you - it's always been me and Kath and Mum for the most part (the 3 of us against the world) but I'm grateful for that because we are so close and I have them to rely on if I need it. Of course, extended family is part of that too, even if they are far away in distance :)

Kim said...

Love this post!
I have a small family, too. On Mom's side, I have her, my grandmother and step-grandfather, and a great aunt. Mom is an only child and so am I. Her and Dad are still married. Dad's family is bigger, but I'm not close to that side even though they live closer, except I was very close to my paternal grandparents. It's always so obvious my mom was a stay-at-home mom, because I am wayyyy more like her than dad when it comes to how I relate to family - I prefer small, intimate, quiet but funny family gatherings. Dad's loud sisters and their families overwhelm me. And because Dad is the baby by ten years, I'm the youngest cousin by at least ten years, so EVERYONE on that side treats me like I'm 12. I am married, own a house, and have a professional career...but they speak to me like I just learned to tie my shoes. I hate it.

Kim Humes said...

haha I hate that too Kim - I'm a lot younger than most of my family (my sister is closest in age but after her there are large age gaps) so I think they often forget that I'm an adult and have had a life (I wasn't born yesterday!). Plus my family members generally think they know everything (common family trait) so they are always ready with an opinion lol

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