The meaning of family

I’ve learned a lot of words since I was born. “Family” is one of the most important.

I meet Great-Grandma for the first time. Four generations of my family, all in one spot. I’m still not sure what “generation” means, but I understand “family” a whole lot more.
I meet Great-Grandma for the first time. Four generations of my family, all in one spot. I’m still not sure what “generation” means, but I understand “family” a whole lot more.

The very first time I met Mama and Daddy—or Susan and Dustin, as I occasionally call them—they said that they were my “family.” Which, from what I could tell, meant “servants.” They were the people who bent over backwards to fulfill my every want and need. Whenever I cried and asked for milk, or cried because I wanted my diaper changed, or cried because I was tired—each cry is, of course, distinct and unmistakable—Mama and Daddy, in their fumbling way, eventually got it through their heads what I was asking for and took care of it for me.

Then they started telling me that “family” can mean more than just having a mother and father (they tell me these words mean the same thing as “Mama” and “Daddy”). They said that a family could have aunts and uncles, cousins, and grandparents. It made sense, I guess—a girl can never have too many people waiting on her hand and foot. But whenever I met an “aunt” or an “uncle,” or a “cousin,” or “grandparents,” I started to get confused. There were lots of them, and it was hard to keep them all straight. So I picked a favorite and memorized her name first.

Also, whenever I was around them, they always did cool stuff with me, coming up with new ideas and showing me cool new things. No bossing me around telling me all the things I can’t do or can’t touch, like Mama and Daddy always do. Wow, I thought: these aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents were really fun, and they were really good at playing with me. They were never obnoxious like my parents can sometimes be. I really grew to love them.

Yet I still wasn’t sure what my parents were talking about when they mentioned “family.” Then one day it clicked. A little before Christmas we took the subway to the airport and got on an airplane. I was really excited to get on a plane. We went to a place called Salt Lake City. It’s where Grammy and Papa—I now have their names memorized, too—live, and there were lots of my aunts and uncles and cousins there, too. We were having a great time. On Christmas Day, after Mama and Daddy took me sledding for the first time (which, by the way, was a lot of fun), we all went to visit someone. Her house was a little different; it reminded me a little of the house we lived in in Washington, D.C., with a lobby and lots of people living there. All of us stayed in the lobby while Papa went to get the person we were visiting. Mama and Daddy told me that her name was Great-Grandma. When she came out, she looked very different from my other family members. Her skin was really wrinkly, and her hair was very gray, and she spoke pretty softly, especially compared to my loud cousin (we all know who that is). She didn’t do much—she just sat there and spent time with us, and she seemed to like me a lot. I liked her, too. We took this photo, and then we left.

As we drove back to Grammy and Papa’s house, I thought about our visit to Great-Grandma and meeting her for the first time. Then I realized that “family” means the people you love just because—because of who they are, because they’re there, and not just because they do whatever you want them to do. I like that idea. It makes a lot of sense.

So that’s why I love my aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents: just because, no other reason needed. But my parents—well, that’s a different story. I still expect them to wait on me hand and foot, and to do whatever I ask them to do, and to let me do whatever I want. And if they make me mad, I’m learning really well how to let them know. After all, I’m two and a half years old now, and I’ve had lots of practice.

Now, I also hear that a family can include brothers and sisters. I think I like that idea. Maybe I’ll go talk to Mama and Daddy about getting one of those. You can order them online, right?

This article will appear in Issue 9 | January 2013.

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