Until very recently, I took for granted what Family meant. Or, perhaps more accurately, I overlooked the deeper roots. I felt them, I just never considered them.
My mother always told me that family are the people who have to put up with your crap even when no one else will because if they don’t, it will be awkward at Christmas, and no one wants to have that unholy burden on them. No one wants to be the one who ruined Christmas. So you live and let live and forgive and love unconditionally even though none of your shirts fit anymore because your little sister and her enormous boobs have warped them all, and why can’t Mom just make her wear her own clothes? Sometimes, Family took more effort than other times.
In my mind, my parents went from being A Couple to being A Family on the very moment I showed up, their oldest daughter. (I find that often my misguided, misinformed assumptions about my parents revolve around myself, my presence and it’s subsequent glorious effects on their combined lives.) Rarely does it occur to children– innately selfish and simple-minded creatures, simply for not realizing there is a bigger scope-of-things to consider– that their parents had lives before them. Or that each parent had an entire life before they met one another and chose to team up.
It wasn’t until I was almost 20 that I realized two things about my father simultaneously. 1. He was a very cool guy, and if I was not his daughter, I would still very much like to be his friend. (Happily, I now get to do both.) And 2. That man can really tell a story. (And does he ever have cool stories to tell.) At 18, my mother had become my best friend, and I started to open my eyes to how much they’d given up for me, given to me… none of it begrudgingly. When children have this moment, it is the profound beginning of a new appreciation for the people who birthed them. I’m sure it seems to take forever, but eventually we get there, to the place where we realize they are so much more than the hander-out-ers of groundings and allowance. And there are perks in it for them, too. Below, you’ll see my parents on the day their oldest graduated college with a BA in Film and Screen Studies and then went out with her parents and got completely shitfaced.
Happiness looks good on them, together, 25 years after they stood up and promised to love each other forever. They’ve spent every day since making good on that promise and showing my sister and I firsthand what it means to be part of a Family That Loves Each Other NO MATTER WHAT (capital letters courtesy of my mother, who can push words through her teeth with a fervor that I can only hope instills subtle terror in the hearts of my children with the acute accuracy the way she once did to the hearts of my sister and I).
Kristin and Ryan were just a couple in my mind, too, until the morning they had Jonas. Then they started being a family. Like, a real family, with a baby. (… … … KRISTIN HAS A BABY! … I am not freaking out… … … As long as I take time to pause on this matter… … … I am not freaking out.) When I got to talk to her the morning after her C-section, she told me, in these words, “He looks just like his father.” She meant Ryan, of course, who I knew as the-guy-she-was-sorta-dating before I knew him as her-boyfriend before he became her-fiancee and then the-man-she-married-in-the-park-by-the-lake. He’s now the-father-of-her-child… And, wow. They’re a family. The boy who didn’t kiss her under the fireworks all those years ago finally redeemed himself for letting the moment slip by.
He helped Kristin become a Mommy. They’re a family. One plus one plus very-tiny-one equals a family. Jonas has Ryan’s face, and that proves that my math is wholly correct. They went from couple, to family, literally, overnight.
James and I were laying in bed the night after Kristin had given birth, just talking. We talked about work, and about school, and about money, and about life, and about our futures, and about the cats, and about our vacation, and about our mutual friends, and about our non-mutual friends, and about the fact that Kristin and Ryan had a baby. We talked about where we wanted to be as people, and as a couple, in five years. We talked about our dreams, and about how we’d raise kids.
We didn’t talk about getting engaged, or getting married. We don’t talk about those things. I don’t need to with him.
And somewhere in the middle of the conversation, it hit me: He’s my family now. Somewhere along the way, and I hate to admit that I think the cats had a very big part in this, James has gone from My Boyfriend to My Person to My Family. And together, we’re putting together the beginning of what it is that our parents gave each of us: a strong familial foundation on which our children will build their lives.
It never occurred to me that it’s a process, that two people have steps to take before they suddenly produce a child that make them a family. There are a lot of parents out there who are not families, and there are a lot of families out there in which the parental-units are not biologically linked to their children. They’re still families.
And to bring it full circle like this, it’s pretty amazing. To consciously be at the beginning of something so profound and awesome is humbling, and exciting, and empowering, and amazingly comforting. I know that James and I have what it takes to build a foundation so strong that nothing– not even Evil Kittens– can shake it. I know this because we have two sets of amazing parents who have taught us these skills every day, our entire lives. I know this because we have between us one of the strongest bonds of trust and respect and love that I’ve ever seen among two people.
And I know this because we both place equal value in the phenomenon that I’m witnessing, first hand, reveal itself to me in my every waking day: the Phenomenon of Families coming to be.
We have a ways to go… We’re looking forward to enjoying the ride. I’ve heard good things about the destination and better things about the getting-there. In the meantime, we have a very long road trip with two very-small kittens coming up in the next 72 hours.
Amazing what you’ll do to get back to your roots, your mother’s hugs and to hold the next generation of your very best friend in your arms. I’ll even travel with Evil Kittens.