True family

This is the tenth day of the Love Blog Challenge
hosted by the lovely BelleBrita
Prompt for 2/14:
Family

Like so many other important, meaningful, and strong words, family is frequently co-opted and diluted.

My family is complicated. Not the people, just the structure. (Well, the people, maybe a little bit.)

  • My first and late husband, Bill, was 18 years older than me and had four children, the oldest only 9 years younger than me. His kids all have grown kids.
  • Ana is Bill’s daughter, so my four step-children are her half-siblings.
  • Ana has kids, too. Their cousins are more the ages of aunts and uncles.
  • My husband, Tim, is 10 years younger than me (so it kind of averages out), was never married, and has no children by birth. Honestly, this is the easiest part.
  • Tim’s two brothers are married with children, 5 girls to be exact, 4 of whom are on their own and some are starting their own families.
  • My brother and his first wife had one daughter. He remarried a woman who has two children. All of these children are grown and two have children of their own, as well.

My family is not the most complicated, but there are those tricky bits, like Wait, is she an aunt or cousin or step- or half- or just plain “niece”?

Widowed at 38 raising a daughter of 12, my life was certainly not completely unique, but unusual enough that the more standard answers to widow questions didn’t always fit. Maybe if all five kids were closer in age, maybe if they had all been living with us or with their mother, maybe if they hadn’t started to move away or lived far away it would have been different.

But when I married Tim, I began to feel stretched and a bit off-balance. Not in a bad way, just in a new way. Not that I hadn’t experienced the getting used to each other period. I knew that would take some work. But both of us felt changes that were not simply the natural getting married, starting a family, birth and death cycles every family experiences.

I was juggling long-held quirks and traditions already blended, shared, and built with a loved one no longer here and those of a more traditional family introduced by a full-grown adult Tim, the marriage first-timer.

Bless his heart, he was just trying to catch his breath as he moved from simply Uncle Tim to the newly-appointed position of patriarch, reeling from the complexity of an instant family – five children, eight grand-children, in-laws, and cross-country vacations. In one sweet vow, from single to what may be described as ultra-married. For the record, he did and is doing just great.

We both had the lovely tangled connections of a whole other half to figure out and fit in – and into.

I think I speak for both of us that we wouldn’t have it any other way.

So, given my rich and wonderful experience with family, why do I use the word co-opted and diluted.

Simple.

Far too many car dealers, restaurants, and realtors use “you’re like family” to lure me in.

Nope. This is absolutely not okay.

Let’s talk car dealers. Yes, Tim and I have bought several cars from the same Toyota dealership and, yes, we would recommend them if asked. But we have NEVER had the same salesman for two purchases. And, I don’t care if you are buying from a family owned store or a big super one, the obligatory chit-chat about kids and soccer while the “manager” is approving the deal does not put you in the same orbit or even stratosphere as my daughter, cousin, or mother-in-law.

I may sit in the same section every time I eat out, but the gentleman or lady who takes and delivers my order, no matter how many times they fill my coffee, know exactly how to cook my eggs or leave off the onion, even if I am aware of their struggle at home or where they are in school, even then, they are neither nephew nor aunt.

I may go to the same dentist and hygienist for years as well as buy and sell my homes with the help of the same realtor each and every time. I may even send them Christmas cards.

But none of these people are family.

It is at this point, my lovelies, that I must do some soul-searching. A very sweet and thoughtful writer I know kindly pointed out that my words come from the life of a person with strong, not to mention extended family ties. She reminded me that there are those who have had to make their own families because their bio-relationships do not resemble what mine do.

With that wisdom in mind, I did some editing to my original post because I do believe that there are those in my world who would qualify as family if I had to create one from scratch. For example, my best friend.

I am probably closer to Laurie than the majority of my real cousins. I know more about her than I do about quite a few of my distant relatives. And when it comes to certain important, personal things, I often prefer to talk to her above anyone else – anyone at all.

She holds a place of honor in my life, as I believe I hold in hers. When Bill died, Ana sat between Laurie and me, two people she knew she could count on whenever, forever. I can’t imagine not choosing her to be a sister if I could.

But when an insurance agency or dentist’s office refers to us with the same reverence and intimacy we claim for our loved ones, they do a disservice to those who really are a part of our family, whether “bio” or lovingly created with mutual love and respect.

Maybe I’m so protective of my true friends and family that I go a little overboard when a stranger tries to name us – or claim us. But it’s not okay for someone or some place to assume that, because they provide excellent service or white-glove treatment, we are “like family.”

It takes a lot more than that.

Image by Shutterbug75 from Pixabay

10 comments

    1. Yes, and sometimes the connections are strong. I just don’t like people taking the special nature of family and using it to fill their restaurants, even if I do get to know the waiter really well. Thanks, Pat…xoxox

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  1. I think your perspective reflects the joys of having a good family with lots of love, even though it’s complicated at times! But for people who don’t have good bio-family relationships, family becomes about chosen family.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You are so right, Brita…
      I think I do have a little broader understanding and acceptance of “family” given the blended and complicated qualities of mine.
      But yes, my words do reflect a life full of pretty traditional relationships. I truly don’t think I was disregarding the sweet families some must build for themselves. It honestly – sadly –never crossed my mind. But,. in retrospect, I’m sure even the distinction I made about my best friend Laurie would probably be different if I lived different circumstances.
      I’m sorry that in my zeal to push back on the advertising community I didn’t consider how my words would sound to the people you describe. Thanks so much – I’ll remember your kind and gentle words…xoxox

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  2. I think your complicated family is beautiful and I wish more people understood the breadth of what family means when they talk about the family from the perspective of policy. It’s a serious pet peeve of mine. Ever thought about running for office? I can’t pledge my vote but I’m a good campaign manager 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, wow, Alessia. Given the wimpy nature of my thin-skinned self, I can’t imagine running for office – it seems like the perfect way to turn yourself into a target, or punching bag. But that you so much for your support. And, yes, I would need a good manager, so you’re it!
      I so agree with you about the nature of “family” especially when it comes to caring for each other. You may have noticed Brita’s comment about people who don’t have the strong bio-ties I have to members of my family. I’m glad she said something because I understand what both of you are saying about the importance of mercy and grace for those whose families are either gone or have chosen to leave. I was so focused on the Olive Garden “When you’re here, you’re family” and the car buyers who say something like “it feels like family here.” that I looked past those who have created their own loving spaces because they were not as fortunate as me.
      My personal opinions about policy is that it seems restrictions on things that would be bad for the world are being discarded while restrictions on caring for each other – like families who find each other at the right time – are being tightened and increased. Lord have mercy on us… Thanks again, Alessia…xoxox

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