This past weekend, we went to State College, PA for the Navy/Penn State game. While the game was disappointing (to say the least), we both had a fabulous time when we took my niece out for an early dinner on Friday. We had a fun meal together, got to hear all about her classes, find out how much she loves being at PSU, and talk with her about her friends, job, and family. It was exactly what I’d wanted to do when we made our original plans to go to this particular game…. visiting with our niece, M.
The interesting about this normal family outing is that our niece, M, is not technically related to us… she’s our niece by love, not by blood. It may sound weird, but it works for us.
I’m sure there are many others who have familial connections like ours. I always felt that my first cousins were more like “second sisters”… or “sisters once removed”, if you will. I spent every significant holiday and family event of my childhood with my cousins and, since they were all just a few years older than me, my sense of identity was formed by these amazing women, much as older sisters do for their younger ones. These are the women I have called on for support my entire life… the women who taught me life lessons… the women who allowed me to tag along with their friends when I visited. They helped me weather the storms caused by my parents’ divorce and allowed me to learn how to be graceful, loving, and generous by watching their reactions to everyday life. These women have been my role models for real life… and they helped me learn how to form my own family structure, apart from the strict “family tree structure” guidelines you can find in Wikipedia.
If you go strictly by the original family tree, the lovely young woman we took to dinner wouldn’t be included. She’s actually the best friend of my first cousin’s daughter… who is officially my first cousin once removed. Huh? Anyone else have people who don’t fit into this stagnant structure?
When I speak of my cousin J and her husband B, I usually refer to them as my sister and BIL. Their kids, M and J, therefore are my nephew and niece… right? I do have an amazing sister, BIL, and nephew (J, E, and T) who I love to distraction as well as my brother, SIL and their two kids (T, J, E, and Z) so this is in no way a statement on my relationship with them. My other cousins’ kids are similarly referred to, in our house, as our nieces and nephews as are the kids of my step-brothers and their families. We are blessed with many relatives, but I believe that in this day and age the word “relative” can be a confining term.
I love having the freedom to define relationships with people in my life. One of the definitions of “relative”, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is “a person connected with another by blood or affinity”. If you look up “affinity” on Dictionary.com, you’ll get the following definitions: “1. a natural liking for or attraction to a person, thing, idea, etc. 2. a person, thing, idea, etc., for which such a natural liking or attraction is felt. 3. relationship by marriage or by ties other than those of blood ( distinguished from consanguinity). 4. inherent likeness or agreement; close resemblance or connection”.
I believe this is where my favorite part of having relatives falls. I have a number of people who have, over the years, called me “mom” and will call or text when they need to reach out to someone they can trust… I have a select few young men who allow me to call them “son”… I have male friends who I refer to as my brothers… I have long-time friends who are more like sisters… doesn’t everyone have people like this in their lives?
I truly believe these terms of endearment are incredibly important. While I’m not a fan of the phrase “it takes a village to raise a child”, I thoroughly believe that we are all able to create relatives with whom we have a connection… and affinity… and bring them into our lives. Maybe it’s someone whose parents are far away and they need a parental “touchstone” of sorts… maybe it’s someone who seems so familiar to you and your own family that they just “fit”… maybe it’s someone who needs you at that moment in their lives. Whatever the reason, I feel that when that situation presents itself, the universe is telling us that this person needs some support… and I believe it’s our duty to answer that call.
Besides… how could you say no to such a beautiful face… Love my niece Mel!