I am a passionate believer in creating your own family, your own group of folks who sustain and nurture you even if your blood kin has disowned you for whatever reason; or even if you are not dramatically disowned but just can't be your real self around your relatives. I always think of a great quote from "Microserfs", a book I love, where the female heroine says to her new boyfriend "I'm the silent frog with my parents, but I'm the singing dancing frog around you." Meaning that she was the silent, obedient but dull frog around her uncomprehending family, but with her partner, she came alive.
I think about that this weekend as I'm in Kelowna visiting Dad & June, and also June's visiting daughter and son-in-law and their 2 kids, age 5 & 3. Jade & Brenden are not tied to me by blood, but their shrill little voices called me "Auntie Alison" all day yesterday, and it was unexpected, and sweet. Their grandma June's late marriage to my dad has made me a relative. And they call my dad, who visits them in Ottawa when he's there on business, "Grandpa David", which made my heart clench a bit. Not from jealousy, but from sadness- they may be the only kids who ever call my dad "Grandpa". Malcolm & Naomi claim not to want kids at all, and J & I are on the fence. So the only children who think of my dad as a grandpa are, again, not related to him by blood at all.
And my blood relative, Dad, has this really annoying habit of not listening to a thing I say- I have never known if it's disinterest, or poor listening skills, or what, but I can be telling him the best thing and he'll interrupt it with a random, unrelated story or interjection; while June, who often drives me crazy even though I know she's battling a life-threatening disease, can suddenly ask me what my plans are for the Fall and listen, REALLY listen to my answers in a way my dad never will.
Meanwhile, J went to a funeral today for his dad's cousin, a man he barely knew. But this cousin's daughter told him a funny story of meeting J as a 5-year-old: "you'd bury your clothes in the sand at the beach and run off, buck-naked." A great family story, from a virtual stranger.
Jon and I are both products of families who are largely disjointed from grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and the like because our parents emmigrated to Canada from other countries. In a way this is liberating- we can live our lives without the judgements of this great lumpish Family hanging over our heads. But this also leaves us dangling- lonely and disjointed in our lives without the built-in safety net of Family to cushion our blows. We are fascinated and repelled by large extended family groups and the pressure they can exert. And while I feel 90% more myself around my manufactured "family" of people like Gord, Darryl, Sean and the like, I still crave the approval or at least the recognition of people like my dad, my grandparents and cousins in the UK. "It's so nice to read about your way of life," wrote my grandma in her last letter to me, and although I find her a repellant woman in most ways, I was absurdly pleased.
At the end of this slightly intoxicated blurt (I shared 2 bottles of wine with my dad as a courtesy- June can't drink because of her cancer so really it only seemed fair to glug back some wine with him- 'hic') I guess I'm no nearer a neat summary- I still believe that the people you are truly close to are your real family but I can't reject the hold that "kin" has on me because I'm so fascinated and unfamiliar with it.
At the end of the day I can only say that I had a great time getting to know Jade & Brenden; that I passionately hope I will continue to be a part of their young lives even as I doubt that this can be so (they live across the country for one thing); that this is all probably tied in to my confusion & ambivalence about having kids; that even though I've had a great time here I'll be thrilled to get home to my Jonny tomorrow night where I can sing & dance & croak to my heart's content and still be loved just because I am Me.