In the past few weeks, I have been thinking a lot about my family. One of the questions I have asked myself is this: "If I had to choose one childhood memory which represents my relationship with my family, what would it be?" What immediately came to mind was an Easter celebration when I was somewhere between the ages of 3 and 5. I don't know what year it was, but I do remember that I was the only young child in my family at the time, and I was young enough that I sometimes had a hard time walking or running. The memory is rather short, but I feel that the emotions behind it are particularly relevant to evaluating my family life.
The first thing that comes to mind when I recall this memory is the feeling of my lacy off-white Easter dress. It had a small pink flower on the ribbon ringing the chest of my dress. The sleeves were capped and I think I remember the feeling of a bow tied in the back, most likely an extension of the one across my front. The ribbon is rather thin and sewed securely to the front of the dress. My hair is in two pigtails, one at each side of my head, and I have bangs that are almost hanging into my eyes. I want my mother to cut them.
I said that this memory is relevant to evaluating my family life because it illustrates how I was treated as a young child. My second cousins and my aunt took care of me. Yes, of course, my mother raised me and is largely responsible for the person I have become, but it was my second cousins and aunt who I looked to for guidance in most areas of my life. Being so close to my own age, but far enough ahead that they had learned something more of the world than I, I often used their failures to prevent my own and their triumphs to point me where I needed to go. I didn't grow up with other children in my household so these women have always been more sister than cousin or aunt--and my aunt more of a sister than any of them.
I can't say who I would be if I hadn't had them in my life, and, frankly, I don't want to contemplate a life without them. Although they can be exasperating and loud, flamboyant and opinionated, stubborn and outrageous, they are also smart and loving, experienced and caring, learned and hopeful. They are my family, and I love them because I love them, not because they are my family.