As you might imagine, I’ve had some trouble with family and the safety of family in my past. That trouble, that childhood where I was stuck for so many years, has both helped me and hurt me, but overall, it has shaped me into the human I have become. For that, I can begin to have compassion with myself for the sticky spots I still have, for the areas in my past where I am still processing through, with the gentle awareness that I can be whomever I want to be in this moment now.
This weekend is a bit of a magical one for me–first, yesterday was the anniversary of my mother and stepfather. Second, today is my brother’s birthday. Third, tomorrow will be the last day my sister-in-law will be pregnant (scheduled cesarean early Monday morning). I’m acknowledging that these three events are so much more important to me this year than any other time. And I’m excited to share why.
In my previous post on Father’s Day, I talked a little about my stepfather. 27 years ago yesterday, he married my mother, and he married all of us kids too. 27 years ago, I was gifted an amazing gift that only recently have I been able to fully appreciate. The gift of presence, the gift of kindness, the gift of stability, the gift of unconditional love, the gift of family. While my stepfather not only got my mom but all of us, I also got my stepfather’s inspiring and loving family to call my own. Only very recently have I been able to realize that the only one standing in between my relationship with these amazing individuals was me. I felt so much pressure by my biological father and my siblings to stay separate from my stepfather that I never fully integrated. But they have always been there to love me, to care for me, to inspire me.
My stepfather came from a wonderful home, with a mom who chose to be a mom even though she had a master’s degree and was a concert cellist. She taught her children to achieve, but not at the expense of enjoying their lives. She taught them to have a full spectrum of emotions. She taught them love.
When my stepfather came into the picture, this was foreign to all of us. But because I was so young, I remember that my favorite times in my childhood were around him–playing bocce on the beach, playing croquet in the front yard, attending baseball games, cheering on local sports teams, learning new card games, playing handball, running in three legged races at company picnics, and hula hooping. We watched TGIF together, and he always imitated Steve Urkel. We rapped to the Fresh Prince together, we went to tons of movies. He was the best part of my childhood… Until I was told not to love him. Until I was told to choose him or my siblings in loyalty. Looking back now, I made the mistake of not choosing him. For their 27th anniversary, I choose him back. I choose him, I choose fun, I choose unconditional love. Because it chose me all those years ago… And it’s still there.
Two things have opened up my eyes to this experience even more than just my trauma work: I met someone whose traits mirrored those of my stepdad and I found myself profoundly grateful for the man who was my father the more I fell in love with that man I was dating. It really empowered me to grapple with those narratives about why I felt I needed to choose all those years ago. It empowered me to be curious about the choices and perceptions I have had in the past. It’s hard work, but I was so curious about the patterning between these two very important people in my life that I just wanted to dive deeper and deeper into my trauma to ensure that nothing could get in the way of enjoying the fun, silly parts of life.
The second reason for my increase in gratitude is that my brother, whose birthday it is today, married my sister-in-law a couple months back. She is pregnant with their first child, and is scheduled to have a cesarean in about 24 hours from now. My brother has two daughters from previous relationships, which means that my sister-in-law chose to be a step mom. At the wedding, my brother and sister in law also chose to include my nieces in the wedding, creating a new family, full of love and respect and admiration. The most beautiful, touching moment was my sister in law’s vows she wrote to my nieces. It was the most beautiful, inspiring, loving moment I have ever encountered at a wedding, and it caused me to reach behind me and grab my stepfather’s hand… Something I have never done before. That moment taught me how much of a choice it is for someone to choose a family that already is in place… To choose to come into something broken and make something new, together.
My brother, who doesn’t have the relationship I do with my stepfather, now has an understanding of how it feels to create a new family from something broken, and we’ve forged a bond together in vulnerability and bravery. And we’re not perfect at these new feelings by any means. What it teaches me, though, is that we’re all on such different timetables with regard to the lessons we learn. What’s important is to learn them… At any point. He’s an amazing father, someone who broke the cycle of abuse my father perpetuated. Now, he’s showing again his devotion to family to choose as a partner a woman so loving, so independent, so intelligent to be the mother and stepmother to his children. I’m so proud to be his sister, to be an aunt to his children, and I can only hope that one day, I can bring children and a partner into the family he and I are starting to recreate out of the rubble of the broken family from which we came. While we don’t always agree or get along, I now know that he understands the bond I have with my parents and the love that comes from that. He also is ridiculously supportive of my love for the mother of his other daughter, from whose home I’m typing this tonight. My sister in spirit, though no longer in law, and one of my dearest friends.
Family is what we make. Family is dynamic and fluid and frustrating. But family, at the end of the day, are those individuals who love you when the chips are low, when you need a good belly laugh, who you can trust with your vulnerability, with whom you can celebrate it all. I’m so grateful to be slowly identifying those who are my blood and not who are family. Every day is less lonely, every place more like home.