Friday, November 1, 2013

On Family

In follow-up to my posts On Friendship and On Love, this time of year is worthy of a post on family. As my faithful readers and friends know, my mother died when I was a young girl. Tuesday the 29th of October marked 16 years since, and this time of year always makes me reflect on her, on family, and on thankfulness. I have realized that it seems I have a lot to say about family, and this is the best forum I have to say it.

My childhood was so different from that of most of my peers. There's the obvious difference of losing my mom when I was young, though that happens more often than it should. But there are other things that set my family apart. My parents were in their late 40s when they had me; dad was pushing 50. This means that there was a generational gap between my parents and their children; a gap MUCH bigger in some cases than my peers (case in point; Ethan is 10.5 years older than me, and his parents are 10+ years younger than my dad). File that away and add this; there is also a cultural gap. Dad was born in Budapest Hungary in 1938. English was not his first language, democracy was not his first government. He's a history lesson for another day, but suffice it to say that this added another interesting -and sometimes frustrating- layer into the family soup. Now file THAT away, and add in my big brother, who is a wonderful and sweet human being on the autism spectrum and who is one of my most favorite people on this planet. That's us. The 4 of us were a small, unique unit. I never knew my dad's parents nor my mom's father. My maternal grandmother was alive but lived in Washington State and I only met her a few times before she died at the age of 97 when I was 13 (she outlived two of her children and was a tough lady who is also worth another blog post of her own). This means that I never really had a relationship with my grandparents, or at least not the kind that most people my age do. My dad is an only child, and my mom's living sibling (my Aunt Liz) and her family lived and still live in Washington State. Thanks to the aid of technology, I keep in touch as much as I can, but I've never felt truly close to them. That's the abridged version of my family, the moral being that it's pretty small, and that's both happy and sad.

Dad Peter, Stephen holding baby Maria, ugly furniture

Our family really shapes us; their presence or absence, who they are and who they teach us to be. The first humans/adults we are ever exposed to are our parents, or people who are like parental figures. I used to think my small, odd family was something to be ashamed of. It alienated me sometimes a lot of the time. My brother and I were raised by "old school" parents, so we didn't do a lot of things other kids did. Our family trips were educational in nature, or to visit the extended family. People used to mistake my parents for my grandparents. I know now, as an adult, that I was fortunate to be brought up this way. We had dinner together almost every night. Sundays were reserved for church and lunch. My dad read to us at night and did all the voices (he does a mean Woody Woodpecker). My mom was a SAHM and had snacks and homework help waiting after school. Dad often told us his own really interesting stories, which are better than any textbook. When mom got sick, I learned to cook, clean and iron. She brought me to chemo with her and taught me subtle lessons in compassion. I know with certainty that I am the woman I am because of the family I came from.

True Peter silliness * not his real mustache
 This is not to say that it was all sunshine and roses. Death, age, mental illness; these all take a huge toll on the family unit. My dad lost his best friend; the woman who kept him grounded and took care of the kids. Suddenly, it was just him. This is where things unraveled a bit, and what makes a nice segue into a discussion on families in general.

I've been extremely fortunate to be welcomed into two big, loving families who are not blood related, but who may as well be. Growing up, we had a church family, which was so important and so lovely. But that too, was polarizing. Enter: friends who turn into family. I met the Poulins probably in 1996. They moved in right next door and had a daughter named Aimee. She is one of the few friends I have who knew my mother. We became fast friends, and remain to this day like family. I held her baby brother David (who is turning 16 soon- yikes) when he was a few days old. I get invited to the family Christmas party every year. Her mother is my FARM (female adult role model- it's our running joke) and her grandparents are the closest thing to actual grandparents (my dad rented from them for years; it was a family affair!). At the risk of getting too mushy and embarrassing anyone, I will just say that Aimee's family has been as much a part of shaping who I am, if not a little more. Much as I believe our family shapes who we are, I believe also that we can choose our family; or else, God or The Universe assigns us a family when one is not available. Susie has many brothers and sisters; I became the adopted cousin of a big, nutty family nearly seamlessly. My immediate family was so small and so different; and then, by more than chance, a family showed up just when we needed it the most.

Aimee and Maria, Ice Storm of 1998,  ugly hats   

Fast forward to now; I've got a wonderful husband who comes with a wonderful (and even bigger) family. Lots of families are created by marriage! I was fortunate to have married a man with two amazing, living parents and endless aunts, uncles and cousins. My MIL is one of 6 and my FIL is one of 4, so the MacDougal/Lape family is full of love and life. I was welcomed into the fold almost instantly, even before Ethan and I got married. I gained a brother and a sister in the deal too. My immediate family unit is so small that we can blend the family easily at holidays. When my family comes over for Thanksgiving, it's only two more place settings. I could not have asked for a better family to marry into, and it is so nice to experience the ups and downs of a large family. I am surrounded by good people, and that makes me so happy!

Isaac, Ethan, blushing bride, Brecken
I get to be part of two families; I probably have around 120+ people I can call family, when you count my real family, my adopted family, my by-marriage family, and friends who are like family. That's a LOT of people. And having so much family around has taught me many things. Here are some of the biggest:
-All families are unique. Furthermore, just as I thought my family was odd, alienating and not like any other, if I ask anyone else from these other families, they would probably say the same thing.
-A small family is just as fun as a big family
-Families are not without drama. Similarly, sometimes it's the family member you least expect that you end up having the best relationship with
- There can be a silver lining in almost any crisis, even death. I am 100% sure I would not be the woman I am today if my mom were still here. Don't mistake me, I miss her every day and I wish she had not died,but that experience shaped me in ways I am forever grateful for.
-Pets are family too (shout out to Wendy, Lucille, Ophelia, Mittens, Charlie, Teddy, and Lola!)

Don't forget to call you mom/dad/FARM/DARM, sister/brother/cousin/friend.


  1. I really liked learning more about your family. Thanks for sharing it. I love how everyone has a unique story that shapes them and molds them. :-) You are a great individual.

  2. What the eff, I wrote a real sappy comment that apparently never posted. I LOVE THIS POST!! --hopefully enthusiasm will make up for it. :)

    1. <3 it is. Sorry if I embarrassed you. I tried to keep the mush at a minimum. Please share this with mom/FARM too. :)