Thursday, February 11, 2010

Ode to a family....

This summer, Ruanita, the kids, and I are going to be heading south. My family is having a big family reunion in Kentucky...the first reunion we've had since I was a child. I come from a rather large family. My mom has 11 brothers and sisters. I have 20+ first cousins...and second cousins are showing up at a rate I can barely keep track of. Growing up, my house was a constant stream of people and noise. With the exception of one or two, all of my aunts, uncles, and cousins lived in the same town in Kentucky....mostly on the same end of town. I grew up surrounded by family. We never knew who was going to show up at dinner. Growing up in such a large family taught me things I don't know that I would have learned from the outside world. In honor of our upcoming reunion, I thought I would write a bit about what I learned growing up in a large, crazy, dysfunctional, loving family.

  1. In my large family, I found my voice. My LOUD voice. In a crowd of bodies, one must learn to speak loudly and steadily to be heard above the roar. I learned to demand attention when I wanted it. Despite being an introverted child, I discovered how to be heard in my family.
  2. From my family, I learned tolerance. With a family as large as mine, there are bound to be a few nuts in the bunch. I won't name names, but suffice it to say that not everyone in the family is playing with a full deck. Despite our eccentricities, every person in our family is tolerated, appreciated, and loved. That's not to say we won't talk about you behind your back...we are a family, after all. But when push comes to shove, we'll have your matter how crazy you are. You can always count on that.
  3. And speaking of playing with a full deck, I learned the fine art of poker from my family. Many a weekend has been spent donating my money to better poker players than myself....usually to my sister-in-law, Jen. I can't remember a single family event throughout the years that didn't culminate in a massive poker game. I have to admit that I have lost hundreds upon hundreds of dollars playing poker with my aunts, uncles, and cousins through the years. Occasionally, I will win...usually not. Some would call this gambling...we call it the family business. Suck it up and hand over your money.
  4. From my family, I learned humility. There is no one better to bring your self-esteem to its knees than a sister or a close cousin. I remember being told on numerous occasions that I was NOT the boss. I was NOT perfect. I was NOT as smart as I thought I was. I was NOT cute. I was NOT the queen of the freaking world. Just yesterday, my sister said to me, "I've really been enjoying reading your blog. You're not that funny in real life." Nice, Jennifer. Thanks to my sisters, I never developed an inflated ego.
  5. From my family, I learned dignity in the face of opposition. My uncle Joey was the first gay person I ever knew. When I came out, he took me out and bought me Jello shots and a rainbow bracelet. He walked me down the aisle at my wedding. He has been living with AIDS since the 1980s. He has seen horrific things and felt pain that I can only hope I never experience. Through it all, he has maintained a life of pride and dignity.
  6. My large family taught me responsibility. After my grandfather died, my aunts and uncles started chipping in money each month to help pay my grandmother's expenses. Ruanita and I dutifully mailed home $20 each month to contribute to that fund until the day she died. It wasn't much money at all, but I felt, as a part of a family, that I was responsible for contributing something. She was my grandma that I adored...and we were responsible for one another. I miss her more than anything in this world.
  7. From my aunt Terri, I learned an invaluable talent...the ability to burp on demand. Though I will never rival her legendary booming belches, my kids get quite a kick out of my talent. It has served me well in life.
  8. I learned to change a diaper and bandage a boo-boo from my family. Being the oldest granddaughter, I had more than my fair share of babysitting jobs. Those jobs prepared me for the grueling tasks of motherhood. I've seen the bare butts of most of my cousins. How many of you can say that?
  9. From my family, I learned punctuality. My mother made a point of getting to church 30 minutes early every week....and sitting in the very front row. God, I hated that. As a matter of fact, my mom was usually the very first person to show up for any and every event. Though I am usually running late for work these days, I never actually show up late. And for most events outside the work arena, I do tend to run ahead of schedule. I can't stand being late.
  10. In my immediate family, it was always stressed that I get an education. However, I learned the important distinction between being educated and being wise. Wisdom has nothing to do with the number of years you go to school. I learned that common sense will get you further in life than "book" knowledge. I am one of a small handful of college graduates in my family....we are certainly no wiser than our counterparts. The ability to judge what is true, right, and lasting...that is real wisdom.
  11. My family taught me humor. Get a couple of beers in us, and we think we are a damn funny bunch. The rest of the world may disagree, but that's ok. My family taught me the fine arts of sarcasm and oneupmanship. If you show up at one of our poker games, be ready to laugh until your sides hurt. But chances are, you will end up the butt of a joke at some point...don't be offended. It's all in fun.
  12. From my family, I learned tactfullness....the ability to bite my tongue and shut my mouth. There have been a few times when this lesson was learned the hard way. But being in a large family full of diverse, and very strong, personalities...I have finely tuned my inner filter. An invaluable ability.
  13. From my family, I learned patience. Trying to organize anything at all with a group of 50+ people takes a great deal of patience. Plans get made, changed, made again, and changed completely. Patience is of utmost importance if you do not want to lose your mind.
  14. From my family, I learned acceptance. When I brought Ruanita home, my family welcomed her with open arms. As a matter of fact, I believe they like her better than they like me now. My family is like that...they have an ability to make everyone feel welcome and part of the family. I hope I've inherited a bit of that.
  15. From my family, I learned impartiality. Trust me, there are battles you just don't want to get involved in. I learned to avoid drama at all costs. I now try to keep my home a drama-free zone. Have your domestic wars, but don't ask me to get involved. Don't ask me to take sides. I try to remain impartial. Just call me Switzerland.
  16. I learned about honor from my family. Like his grandfather and uncles before him, my brother served his country. He joined the Marines out of high school and dutifully went to Iraq when he was called up. Regardless of what I think about the war in Iraq or our motives for getting involved there, I feel nothing but complete and total pride and respect for my little brother and the other military members of my family. They put their lives on the line. They are the epitome of honor.

While all of these lessons were important, the most crucial thing I learned from my family was the simple of act of loving. It's an amazing feeling to belong to something larger than yourself. Despite its sheer craziness, I would not trade my large family for anything in this world. I am the person I am today entirely because of them. I only hope my children have that same experience. I absolutely cannot wait to see them all again this summer.


Jennifer said...

I really love this post...

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