The family you make

Being raised an only child was lonely at times.

I didn’t have siblings to bond with or to create memories with during my formative years.

I envied Mama being able to recount tales of things she and my uncle, Bobby, did as children. Even the times Bobby swindled her out of her own money or decapitated her baby dolls made me wish for a brother or sister. To retaliate for her dolls, Mama threw Bobby’s football in the fireplace. See what I missed out on being an only?

Sure, I had a house full of grown-ups that loved me and played with me, but it wasn’t the same.

For one, Mama and Pop cheat at card games, and Granny was a sore loser, even at Go Fish.

Bobby didn’t like playing most games, so his idea of a bonding experience was taking me to Dairy Queen or feeding our myriad of animals together.

But I wanted someone my age to share things with.

Thankfully, I had several good friends growing up that let me tag along with them and their siblings, giving me a glimpse into just what I was missing.

Even the fusses and fights were fueled by love.

It still wasn’t the same.

I tried to think of all the things I was grateful for being an only child, only grandchild, and only niece.

I never had hand-me-downs; I was never told I had to share. I didn’t feel unloved or like I wasn’t the favorite when it came to the adults. So, maybe there was some perks.

But, still, I wanted to have someone that would always be there through thick and thin. As much as Mama would terrorize her baby brother, she would also have taken on anyone who messed with him, and vice versa.

When you are an only, you don’t have that.

As I grew up and older, my friend circle changed. The friends I had known most of my life were now scattered all over, making being an only feel even more so isolated.

Until I started making new friends as an adult.

And suddenly, it felt like those sibling relationships I craved growing up.

Friends who could get upset with you and call you out on it. Friends who while helping you move, threw some stuff away against your loud, fervent protests and called you a hoarder, but still came back over the next night for Round 2.

Friends who had keys to your house and could come in even when you weren’t home.

Friends who loved you – no matter what.

It was the sisters and brothers I chose, the bonus family I made.

“Brothers and sisters are not what they are cut out to be,” someone once commented to me one day, airing their grievances and the discontent within their family.

It was a fact I had never considered.

In addition to my Mama and uncle, I saw my grandmother’s close relationships with her brothers and sisters.

“Not all of them,” Mama reminded me. “One sister she didn’t like.”

True. Granny and one of her sisters loathed one another. They had a spite that had spanned decades, maybe even a century.

Maybe family wasn’t always what it was cracked up to be.

I thought of others I knew who had strained relationships with their siblings and how they may not even speak, avoiding holidays and family get togethers just so they didn’t have to see one another.

A common occurrence, yet not what I grew up with, and definitely not what I had yearned for.

It seemed like some family portraits were not quite the happy image you’d think. Not everyone loved one another or even remotely liked each other. There were varying degrees of dysfunction that made the concept of ‘family’ kind of hard to embrace.

The thought of this made me kind of sad.

But then I realized, not everyone comes from the same backgrounds, the same environment, the same kind of love. Some could grow up in the same family and not have the same experience, the same nurturing. Some love the hardest because they hadn’t been loved, while others had been given great love and knew how to share it.

Some people didn’t have the family they wanted or needed growing up, but they are able to find exactly what they need later.

We may not get to pick our families at our birth.

But sometimes, we are lucky enough to choose.

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Too much

It seems like for the majority of my life, I have had a hard time fitting in.

Maybe ‘fitting in’ is the wrong term.

I have just always felt like there times I was out of place.

A feeling of just being the odd one out or somewhat slightly different.

It may stem from childhood, being overweight in a sea of skinny kids and always being a little bit different than the other kids in some way.

In addition to my shortcomings and inadequacies, there have always been moments where I have been accused of being too much of something.

Too mouthy.

Too independent.

Too stubborn.

Too loud.

Too quiet.

Practically every personality trait you can imagine was reduced to being an annoying characteristic.

Some of these things I couldn’t even control.

I couldn’t stop being independent; it was the only way I knew how to be.

Stubborn was part of my nature; being loud came from having a grandfather who was partially deaf. My normal inside voice was probably two octaves above someone at a sporting event.

Being too quiet was only mentioned in cases where I didn’t like someone or felt even more self-conscious of my environment.

Needless to say, being accused of being too much anything has made me feel like I don’t fit in even more.

“It’s okay to be too much,” Mama told me one day.

“I don’t know about that,” I replied.

“It is,” she said. “You come from a line of women that have been too much. I could be too much where you were concerned. Or when things were unfair at work. Being too much is perfectly fine when you are making sure everyone is being treated fairly or being the voice for those who can’t stand up for themselves.

And Granny, as you are aware, was always too much. She was too strident and too harsh at times, but only when she needed to be.”

Mama was right in both of those regards. She had the juxtaposition of being too nice at times to be too scary when it was necessary. Granny’s personality was best described as strong and formidable because she was too independent.

“I feel like I can’t be myself, though,” I said.

I didn’t. I have felt like I can’t say what I really think sometimes because I will be called too much of a shrew.

I have shrunk myself down to where I want to be invisible, so no one will notice what I do –or do wrong – so I can hide from the constant criticism.

“How does that make you feel?” Mama asked.

“Horrible,” I told her.

“Then why do you do it?” she asked.

Why? Well, there are lots of reasons. I hold my tongue, so I don’t tick someone off. I try to be polite and accommodating, even when I am the one being wronged.

I seek to keep the peace instead of rocking the boat.

“How’s that working for you?” Mama asked.

“Don’t Dr. Phil me,” I tell her.

“I’m not. I just wonder how that making you feel.”

Awful. I felt weak and stifled.

Mama agreed. “Well, look back over things. I think you will see, life was better when you stood up for yourself and were too much. God didn’t make you a shy, quiet person. He made you stubborn and persistent because He knew you know how to use those gifts.”

Maybe she was right.

I had felt like my life had been stuck and was it maybe because I was going against my nature and not being myself.

It was, however, a time the too was used to amplify another word.

But, maybe it was time to stop living small and safe and to start living too much.

The world doesn’t need us to shrink ourselves or be less than who we are. That’s a disservice to the world and us.

If anything, we need to stop diluting ourselves and start living life full strength and be proud to be called too much.