Week 48: The family you choose

I did kind of a funny thing this Thanksgiving: I spent the holiday with family I’m not related to.

Sounds counterintuitive, right?

I spent the holiday with one of my cousins, his wife and children, and his wife’s parents. This cousin and I did not grow up together, in large part because he is 10 years old than me and — here’s the kicker — we don’t share any genetic material.

Technically, he is my step-cousin. Now, he has been part of my family for as long as I can remember, but even so, it meant a ton to me when his wife invited me for the holiday. “We wanted to make sure you would be with family,” she said.

That got me thinking about just what that means, “family.” You can say it means blood relatives, but I think there’s more to it than that. Family is where you are safe and loved and included and allowed to be your unadulterated self. You don’t have to dress up or put on airs or hide the truth. Also, for good or for bad, family means people who will always be there. You’re kind of stuck with them.

People say you don’t get to pick your family, but in some ways, you do. I might have a skewed perception because I’m in a phase of life in which friends practically become family — the ones you live with, take care of, celebrate birthdays with, travel with. But I also think there is an element of choosing whom to offer that unequivocal welcome and promise of unconditional acceptance. You can keep that to your blood relatives, or you can bring more of those you love into the inner circle.

My cousin’s wife didn’t have to say what she said. They didn’t have to invite me. They could’ve figured I had other family or would spend the holiday with friends, or they could’ve defaulted to my not “really” being related to them. But they didn’t. They called me family and invited me, and that’s what matters. I was so happy to be with them on that day.

In my family in California, I have a few cousins whom you could say I’m not related to. But I disagree. They are my cousins. They are part of my family. I love them. And at this point, I’m closer to them and their kids than I am to some of my blood-related cousins in other parts of the country.

Growing up, I always wished I had more cousins. Now I do, and it’s fantastic. Considering they’re older than me, we are now getting to build and enjoy friendships that never existed when I was 10 and they were in their 20s. Not to mention, because they’re older than me, they have adorable children I now get to love.

So I say the more family the better, and I say you can choose your family. Or, rather, you can choose to add to your family. And why wouldn’t I want more people in my family? More people to care about me and protect me and take care of me? More people for me to to love and be loved by?

I’ll take as much of that as I can get.

Endnotes:

Currently watching: Master of None

Currently reading: A God In Ruins by Kate Atkinson

Song of the week: Jordan Feliz’s “The River”

Plans for the weekend: Running a Santa 10K Saturday morning, then singing in a church concert Saturday and both services Sunday. Add work, a tiny amount of sleep and some friend time, and that’s a more than full weekend!

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