My immediate family was average-sized growing up – one sister, that’s it. I was always a little jealous of people who were from bigger families with lots of siblings and hoped to have a large family one day myself – little did I know circumstances would prevent me from having that brood, and almost completely prevent me from having any at all, but for the miracles of modern medicine known as IVF.
I did have a larger extended family. Four aunts and uncles on one side and five on the other. I grew up generally spending Saturdays with my Mom’s family and Sundays with my Dad’s family, as we would visit the grandmothers’ houses as a family most weekends. On both sides of the family, I received birthday cards and presents each year, Christmas gifts, maybe a chocolate bunny at Easter. New Year’s Day meals around my Teta Marika’s table where she’d make her fabulous homemade zelnick (like spanikopita) and we’d all hope we got the piece with the quarter in it, meaning good luck for the new year.
When my parents got divorced, when I was 13, my father’s family completely quit talking to me and my sister because we (with good reason) chose to live with my Mother. During the year of the divorce, my aunt on my dad’s side would drop the kids off for a birthday party but not stay herself, and wouldn’t come any further in than the bottom of the driveway. Soon after that they just quit coming at all. The cousins I had grown up playing with denounced us as even being related if we were questioned about it at school (we all went to the same high school and had the same, unusual last name so questions were inevitable). All because we went to live with my Mom.
A lot more really bad, nasty stuff happened with these people than I will get into on a blog post, but what I sometimes sit and wonder about is how in the world you can spend years of your life convincing a small child that you love them, that you are family. Sit next to them at picnics eating potato salad and ham sandwiches. Attend their birthday parties and give them kisses and hugs. And then cut that child completely out of your life and never speak to them or acknowledge them again.
Sometimes I feel bad that my son won’t know the feeling of having big family gatherings on both sides of the family. My husband’s family is very large and they regularly have big, group meals for all manner of holidays and celebrations. But there’s nothing to balance it out on the others side. My father’s family members all shunned us or are dead. My Mother’s family members are mostly gone, and those who are left are hard to get together with regularly because of jobs and geography and their own busy lives, which is understandable. But then I’m also glad that my son won’t experience what I did, which is a big group of people basically lying to a child and pretending to love them as a member of the family, only to cut them out of their lives as if that child had never existed, ignoring them or outright mistreating them when they are forced to share space with you.
Long time passing, these years. But I do not forget. Ever.