Christmas time nineteen seventy-something: A little house on Steinblock Ave with a dozen plus cousins, endless aunts, an uncle or two, brothers, parents, assorted neighbors, friends and one wonderful grandmother. This is what Christmas was to me when I was just a boy. An overwhelming amount of family meant the holiday season had arrived. Family meant blood-related or married in or the closest of family friends –but nearly all of us at grandma’s house could trace our lineage back to our matriarch, who was sitting in the corner, with a stream of grandchildren crossing her lap.
There was a steady crescendo of noise coming from the house, as food was baked, cookies and treats were devoured, arguments erupted and children spilled into the yard to play. The adults hollered at the kids and told them to “keep it down.” Cousins quarreled as front yard football teams were chosen and the neighbor’s joined into the game. It was cool out but not too cold to play. It was simple, rowdy and now it all seemed perfect. That’s how it was at grandma’s house on Christmas in nineteen seventy-something.
Fast forward 30-plus years… A little place on Palmira Drive in the pines near the lake, surrounded by an assortment of folks I call family. These are my mother and father in-law, my three kids, my wife and a few nephews. We eat and laugh and talk about memories. I talk with my brothers and family on the phone, who are several states away. The kids play video games and make far too much noise and I tell them to “Keep it down.” It’s loud and overwhelming… and wonderful. None of these people are related to me by blood –but to me they are all family.
In the past few years I’ve realized that family isn’t about the relatives we have in common. It’s something bigger than that. My kids help me see that more than anything else. Experience has a way of enlightening us all. I’ve been enlightened. My mother died years ago and will always be mom to me, but my mother in-law is a wonderful lady who projects her love and affection with enormous generosity. Her affection for her grandchildren seems limitless. You can’t help but love her and each year she becomes more special to me. My father in-law is a man who is instantly likeable. My brothers and sisters in-law are also part of my family, as are all of the assorted in-laws. Most of all, my kids and wife are my family. We are not of the same blood line, or nationality and we have no biological connection but that doesn’t matter. My kids already know something that took me decades to discover. Family is not perfection but family is family –and you don’t need a DNA test to figure out who is family. If you listen closely, your heart will tell you.
The holidays are a time we remind ourselves to embrace those who are closest to us. We should remember that lesson the rest of the year to. Neil Postman wrote “Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see.” My kids are an amazing mirror, and occasionally reflect my efforts –and my personality. I’m often amused when I hear one of my kids say something, which I first heard my mother say. I picked it up and it became a part of my way of speaking –and now it’s a possession of theirs -though she died before they were born. And so it goes. Kids become an echo and reflection or who their parents are, letting us know how well we’ve done as a parent. It reminds us a little piece of us will live on –if not in their DNA, then hopefully in their achievements and their actions.