Growing up, I didn't realize the importance of family, or how it would shape my life and myself in general. I didn't realize that things that were normal for me, were not the norm for the average person. I grew up having two parents that were together still, my middle sister, Jillian is autistic, and I grew up incredibly close to both my sisters. I also have an extremely supportive extended family that I have come to realize not everybody has. and then there's the family you create. These are the people you pick up along the way and they never leave. All three pieces are important, and all have different aspects in how we become who we become.
My Immediate family
It was brought to my attention recently, that many siblings don't talk on a regular basis. This shouldn't have come as a surprise to me, but it did. A family friend was telling me that his kids don't talk, and the only way they ever know what's going on with one another is if he or his wife says something. In my family, that is not the case. From the time my sister Jillian was born, I was her biggest fan. I called her 'my baby' when my parents brought her home from the hospital, and she was. We are only a year and a half a part, and we did everything together. She has always been different, and at times that was really hard to understand, especially growing up, but she has always needed that extra support and love that I could give. Now, we live in the same house again, and it's been lovely because we rarely fight, and I know she's always there. My younger sister, Jenny, and I didn't have that same, right off the bat relationship. She and I grew close because we both understood what it was like to have a disabled sister, and we were really the only two in the world who could really get what it was like for the other person, even though we handled it very differently - I was more combative because I wanted to understand, but I couldn't, and she hated/hates conflict, and internalized everything. And I think it's because we all leaned on each other so much, that we are so close today. In fact, despite my sister, Jenny, living 8 hours away, I facetime with her at least once a week, depending on our weeks, and we never go more than 10 days without a facetime. We also text, send instagram posts and tik toks, nearly daily about things we think the other will like or will want to know about. And I am so incredibly lucky to have that.
I am also lucky to have my parents. Growing up, my mom and I fought like cats and dogs. My mom likes things done her way, and I am a very 'why' oriented person, and if there's not a logical explanation for why it has to be done right then or a certain way, then I was going to fight it. My dad has always been my rock and the mediator between me and my mom, but as I've gotten older, the less combative I am. I also have realized that my parents weren't perfect, but they did the best they could with the cards they were dealt. They tried to be superheroes, and the fact that they tried means a hell of a lot to me, especially now as a grown up.
My extended family is also pretty unique. You have never met a group of such extremely different people in the world, yet everyone loves and cares for each other, putting aside differences of belief and most judgement. Of course, there are some clicks. There's an obvious gravitational pull toward some people more than others, but you know if it's a hard time, anyone of them will have your back without a second thought.
My Grandma has always been the most supportive person in my life. She always made sure that I had an outlet to vent, and gave me a safe space from an early age. Though she and I have never lived closer than 3 hours from each other, and for the majority of my life have lived over 7 hours, she has always had an uncanny understanding of what living in my household was like. She has been to this day, the only person who understood how hard it could be at times growing up with an autistic sister. She understood my frustrations over meltdowns and how my parents would 'cave'. She understood the burdens I felt as the oldest, and how it all always seemed to fall on me. She was always positive. She never made fun of the things I liked, and we often bonded over reading. I talk to her usually once a week to this day, and I always hang up the phone with a smile. She may live far away, but she has always been there for me, and I try never to take that for granted.
Then there's the tradition on my dad's side of the family that has been happening since before I was born. Once a year, over July 4th week, we go to the Outer Banks. All 29 (give or take) of us, stay in one house, and it's a practically a week long party. My favorite tradition in recent years is the night we go out to the gazebo and we play music. Everyone puts in requests, though we try to pick ones most people will like. It's more fun if everyone knows it. There are classics like American Pie and Puff the Magic Dragon to newer things like Luke Combs and Olivia Rodrigo. It's hard to explain the bond that has formed between all of us, and that gazebo will probably always hold a special place in our heart. It's where we celebrated my Nana's life, and my Poppop's. It's where we've laughed till we cried on many occasions, and watched beautiful sunrises after staying up all night. I know very few people who have ever had the same opportunities with their extended family. I am honored to be in snapchat groups with them, and our random zoom calls when we miss each other just a little more than normal. None of us live near each other, but for one week a year, we all come together, and most of us will never miss it. We all know how lucky we are to have grown up together, and to continue to grow together with each passing year. And I am happy to know that we are so close, I mean just the other day my cousin called me, and it wasn't weird. I didn't think, 'why is he facetiming me? Is something wrong?' It really made me realize that my family is special like that.
The Family You Make
I realize that a lot of people don't have amazing families. And I hate that because I don't know where I'd be without mine. However, it's so important to realize that family isn't always blood.
There's a family that I've known since I was born. They aren't related by blood, but if there was ever an emergency, they'd be the first people I call. I call them aunt and uncle because to me they are family. My uncle has known my dad since they were in 4th grade remedial reading together, and my mom met my aunt while working in the hotel industry and my parents introduced them, and they've pretty much been together since. I haven't seen them in a couple years now, but I know if I texted them today and said 'can I come stay at your house tomorrow?' There would be absolutely no doubt that if they were in town that answer would be yes.
Then there's my best friend, Anna. We've been friends since 7th grade, now over ten years. She's the one person who knows probably every side of me. She's seen me at my best and at my worst. She knows my mental health nearly as well as I do. We've gone on a thousand adventures together, from abandoned houses, to Washington, DC to Disney World. She's the one person in the world that I trust the most, and in the past few years, she's gone from just a friend to family. She knows all my secrets, and I am incredibly lucky to have her in my life.
And lastly, there's Ham. Ham started off as my youngest sister, Jenny's best friend. It started with soccer, then she was at our house nearly every day. She joined us for dinners, then traditions like getting pumpkins, and picking out our Christmas trees. To joining us for family game nights, bringing her mom along. To now where they usually spend holiday evenings with us, from Christmas Eve to Christmas day to New Years Eve and Thanksgiving. It now feels weird to have a holiday without our people anymore.
We live so far away from blood relatives; the nearest is 6 hours away, so we created our own family. I am so privileged to have family from immediate family to extended to the ones we made family. I wouldn't be half the person I am today without them.
Is you're family dynamic similar to mine? Are you close to your siblings? Do you have siblings? Or is your family more something you created? I'm interested to hear your thoughts, and how you feel your family has impacted your life. Let me know in the comments or comment on my instagram post!