In praise of... · Opinion

Family ties

 

Some thoughts about family at Christmastime

My baby sister is home!

I say ‘baby’…she’s 5’10”, 40 and an accomplished professional who has travelled the world and runs half marathons in her spare time. A part of me will always think of her as the little blue-eyed blonde-haired demon child that ate my hoarded sweets, got me in trouble, and staged Barbie orgies (even going so far as to turn two short-haired Barbies into honorary males because “Ken was tired”).

Maybe it was because of the age gap (nearly 6 years), maybe I was too used to being an ‘only’ child, but we fought like hellcats as kids. My poor mother, we must have driven her crazy. On the other hand, I loved her fiercely and would have fought anyone to protect her. One time, aged 8 or 9, I ran away from home but went back because I couldn’t leave her.

We had unusual childhoods, moving frequently, living in several countries, both of us spending time at different boarding schools. I really only lived at home with her full-time for a handful of years before we moved in together as adults. We’re still in motion, both of us roaming the world, engineering time together when we can. The fierce bond that was forged in childhood still connects us, no matter how far apart we are or how often we can speak.

As we grew up, we acquired more family. Now our extended families are a glorious mess of steps and halfs and exes and adoptees, but we don’t worry too much about labels. We’re just family. We’re flung to the far corners of the earth, so we’re rarely all in one place, but whenever and wherever we do get together, it’s ‘home’.

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This sister and I only share a mother. At school one time I overheard some girls gossiping about another girl. Her brother, they said, was not her ‘real’ brother, he was the child of her step-father. I sat, unseen, burning with rage. I wanted to smack them in the face for implying that my sister and I were not ‘real’ family.

If life has taught me anything, it’s that the blood connection between people means very little. What matters is the connection you honour, the relationships you build, the history you share.  In the end, it matters very little how someone comes into your life, what matters is their place in your heart.

Today some of the family will have an early Christmas lunch. We’ll drink to those who are elsewhere, share stories about the past and create new ones for the future. I’m so grateful for this bedrock to my life, this network of connection that grounds me in this world. Much love to all my extended family this Christmas, and much love to yours as well. We need more love in the world.

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