Monday, May 31, 2010

modern family

I confess...sometimes I think I need a chart. I also confess that this might be pretty boring to read but its rattling in my head today.

I have a clear memory of sitting in ninth grade health class, in a room that was really part of the auditorium (the name is escaping me and driving me nuts...we had them in junior high and high school...if any friends of those days recall, there's a virtual cookie in it for you). The teacher wanted us to discuss birth order and we were to get into groups by our position: oldest, middle, youngest, only. I asked for help.

In many ways, I was certainly an only child (which is what the teacher decided...I think in part b/c there was only one only in the class). My parents divorced when I was two or three and I never lived with a sibling. My mom was my primary parent (by far) and I am her only child. I had both the love and the scrutiny that go along with solo-status.

But my mom met my step-father when I was around 5 and married him a couple years later. He had three kids. They never lived with us but they were definitely "present"...older and over-achieving and I knew that and felt challenged by it. I could stand up to them with smarts but not social skills or athleticism. So I often felt like a youngest and I don't remember not having them as an example.

Then again, maybe biology should matter. My dad had two kids with his second wife. I was jealous that they "had him" full-time which in some ways makes me an uber-eldest in the jealousy sense. I also put in my hours playing Thundercats and My Little Pony. It is so not relevant to this post, but half-siblings were a newish idea when I was little (not so much by my teens) and everyone always asked what in the world a half-brother and half-sister looked like.

So...only by home status and my mom, youngest by comparison and a shared residential parent, eldest by biology, middle if you count them all. You can add in two "new" sisters since then...my dad's third wife has two girls, both slightly younger than me (another aside: my step-mom bets there's a picture out there of me and her elder daughter as toddlers...she worked with my dad's medical office when my mom, dad, and I were all in that town).

And those are the easy relatives. My step-father and his ex sometimes held joint events for their kids...it took my eons to figure out that the boy closer to my age was their step-brother on the other side. On the other side, I not only couldn't figure out that this guy was my step-mother's (second wife) half-brother, I couldn't even figure out his name (adults used a different nickname than my half-sibs did), Like I said, you need a chart.

It's complex. And I really wish I had a real, true sibling. I'd love to know more about who my half-siblings have become (ummm...it's complicated). If I wasn't already 20 when my dad met my step-mom, I think I could have been closer to her girls...they are very cool but by then I was in college, then law school, then adult-hood so I don't spend two weeks a year with my dad like I did as a kid. I am jealous of all my semi-siblings because they have "real" ones too. And I'm jealous of my husband's simple "two boys and a girl" family. I have seven siblings. And no siblings. I'm not even sure how to count parents (do exes count? does it matter than I didn't like her).

Then again...despite all the crooked lines...I'm pretty sure I have a slew of siblings and sibling-in-law that would be there if I needed them. Many moons ago, it was a step-brother who met me at the hospital when I had a bad allergy attack my first week of college...and I think any of the others would do the same. We may not know each other deeply, but we are still some sort of family.

Maybe the problem is that word: "Family". (another side: I refuse to put punctuation inside quotes in that type of usage...I may be grammatically wrong but oh well). Maybe there was a time went it made more sense, when things were more straight-forward. But today it seems like there are so many different forms that the word has become a bit meaningless. My family is complicated. Like any family, they could be fodder for many hours of therapy. In some ways, it wasn't the family I wanted. But there's loyalty and love and shared knowledge, even if it isn't the same as kids from the same household.

The only-eldest-youngest-middle kid should get its own health class group. Or maybe we should realize that some assignments don't make sense anymore.

1 comment:

Lauren said...

i am an only child. my parents are closing in on 40 years of marraige (which just hit me yesterday when I read about Al and Tipper's separation.)

Predating your modern family, my dad is a product of yours, mine, and ours. "2&1/2 brother, 1& 2 1/2 sisters" - truthfully, they're all my aunts and uncles and I have to stop and think about who's who in the equation.

James is biologically an only child (neither his dad nor his mom had children in their 2nd, 3rd, etc marriages), but those marriages came with other kids. Some I've met, some I haven't, some I never will. Currently, I *think* he has 4 siblings, but I could be wrong.

The boys have 2 1/2 sisters. The oldest now lives in our neighborhood (w/ grandparents/great grandparents) and I find myself parenting her a good bit too.

I totally get the fodder for therapy. :)