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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Differing opinions

A friend of mine commented on Facebook the other day that he noticed a few people had unfriended him because of a political post he had shared.

I missed the post – I am trying to stay off Facebook for the most part lately – but found it sad someone unfriended him over his opinion.

His opinion.

Now, granted, years ago before we had social media, we didn’t discuss politics among friends or family because we knew not everyone shared the same views.

Back then, we didn’t feel the need to share every thought that came in our head at every given moment.

In today’s digitally driven world, we declare our views every three seconds and state, “My wall, my page – if you don’t like it, you know where the unfriend button is.”

That is not what this friend did at all; if anything, he probably shared something showing his patriotic beliefs and someone took great umbrage with it.

It’s sad because regardless of what political party we tend to align with, we are all Americans. We’re all members of the human race. We all have to get along. We have to work together, live together in our communities, and find ways to make things better here at home.

Granny would have never stood for this nonsense.

She always said as much as some people irritated her, she didn’t give up on them because of their opinions.

“Opinions are just like a certain body part,” she would say, “everyone’s got ‘em and needs to keep ‘em to themselves.”

But here lately, our differing opinions are driving us apart.

If I unfriended everyone I disagreed with, I would have no friends left, except maybe the account a friend set up for her dog.

Even then, he doesn’t seem to be too cat friendly and well, I am a crazy cat lady.

I was discussing all of this new-found discord with Mama the other day and she found it downright bizarre.

“Takes everyone working together to make the world go ‘round,” she said simply. “My best friend was on the totally opposite side of me politically. It didn’t matter. We were friends.”

“How did y’all not fight about politics?” I asked.

“We didn’t discuss it. I knew what party she voted, and she knew the one I voted,” Mama explained. “We talked about our kids, what y’all were doing, what we were going to get for dinner at work.”

In other words, they focused on the things that brought them together and made them friends; not the things that would tear them apart.

I know I have let a lot of the political hoopla get to me over the recent years. It used to not bother me and was something I just politely declined to participate in.

But it is hard to avoid now. Everywhere we look, we are being forced to have an opinion, and to pick a side.

Being passionate about your beliefs and knowing where you stand is important and probably as American as apple pie.

However, alienating someone because they have a different opinion than you is just wrong.

I thought about the person that was unfriended.

The father of one of my dearest friends for over 15 years.

And, no matter our different opinions on things, I remembered the kindness he extended us some 14 years ago that stays with me. An offer that we didn’t have to accept but it was graciously offered and appreciated.

He didn’t ask who we were voting for, he didn’t ask our opinions on matters that now seem to cause deep division among friends and family.

He just knew people he cared about may be in a predicament where he could offer some grace and compassion.

It hurt my heart to think someone had unfriended him on some silly social media platform because he shared something that he agreed with.

We used to seek to understand why someone liked something we didn’t. When my child was 4 if I had told him I didn’t like something he did, he would seek to understand. Why didn’t I like it? What, if anything, did I like about it?

He wouldn’t call me names and cut me out of his life.

But that’s how we handle things now. We want to shut out those who disagree with us even slightly.

And it only promises to get worse.

“People are really going to be fussing and fighting and slinging mud,” Mama warned as we talked about the coming months.

“With the midterms?”

“No,” she said. “College football.”

And that should be what we really argue about.