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Family. That group we are born into once we are removed from our mother’s womb. Individually, we are related by blood and along with others who share that same bloodline, we are considered family whether we reside in the same household or not. Traditionally, families consist of mothers, fathers, and children sharing the same home. But that dynamic has changed throughout the decades for various reasons. The first 10 years of my life I lived in a single parent home that was shared with my mom’s aunt, uncle and family friend. I never questioned the relation to the family friend because he treated us with love and compassion like family did during that era. And I knew that whenever he told me to do something, like go to bed on time, I should respect him and do it. When our living arrangement changed to my mom, my sister, and I moving into our own apartment, the family love and compassion grew even more stronger and included more members of our family. We moved into an apartment complex that was in one of Chicago’s rough areas, though not as bad as I later found out. The good thing about the apartment was that our building was directly across the street from our new school so mom was able to watch us from the kitchen window while we walked across the street onto the school ground.
I loved living in Chicago as a child and hoped that our family would always live there in that apartment although it wasn’t in a safe location. Unless we were leaving with our mom or other family members, my sister and I were only allowed to go outside to go to school, to the store or the candy car. Still, when we were not visiting other family in the city, or going to school or church, my sister and I found fun things to do to keep ourselves occupied until bedtime. Occasionally, other family would come over to visit for a few hours to keep us company. But, in hindsight, that wasn’t enough for my mother who eventually moved us from the big city of Chicago to the small town in Mississippi where I ended up graduating from high school, living in a community occupied by homes with both close and extended family members. At that time, my heart was broken because I feared the country and all that it didn’t represent, like constant traffic, traffic lights, tall buildings, and regular city noise. I had learned that fact during the times we would ride the Amtrak train from Chicago to Mississippi to visit family for holidays. As much as I enjoyed visiting with family, during those times, I would be extremely anxious to get back on Amtrak and head back to the city. That feeling continued to surface after we moved, even though I had helped my mom pack up our things and closely watched our uncles load them into a U-Haul truck. For months I prayed that my mother would realize that she missed Chicago and move us back even though I didn’t want to leave my brother, who had always lived with our great grandmother. But it never happened and after the sudden loss of my brother at age 15, I was glad we didn’t go back. I cherish the memories my big brother made with my sister and me. It was devastating to hear that he had drowned trying to save another boy because he had no plans of getting in the water that day. Losing my brother less than two months before his 16th birthday was a shock to me and it made me realize why it’s important to show love to family while you can because death cannot be undone.
Eventually, my mom married. I admit I was happy that she had met someone who made her happy although she was still deeply affected by the loss of her only son. Now there was a new family dynamic which included a stepfather, and with that came an extended family filled with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. I soon learned that with mom’s marriage came a bonus for me: A little sister and two little brothers, which is what I had always wanted because I was the baby of the family. I knew that I would always be my mother’s youngest child but having a younger sister through marriage was better than not having a younger sister at all.
Family had always been important to me growing up and those feelings remain the same today. However, as I get older and began to understand the impact new and different people have had on my life throughout the years, I realize family doesn’t just consist of a common bloodline or genetic connection. Family are those people who are there to provide you with unconditional love, compassion, support, and understanding, without you having to ask for it or hint about it. They appreciate each other and are there for each other through good times and bad times.
People who appreciate me and consider me an important part of their lives. Because of a long-lasting relationship that has formed between us, are considered family to me because we truly value our friendship. "Blood is thicker than water" is just an old saying that was probably meant to encourage family unity and discourage family divide. But the truth is that sometimes strangers provide us with more love and compassion than our own blood relatives. One reason may be that in so many families, once the elders of the family are no longer around, the family divide begins and unless the consensus is to communicate and together try to rebuild the family structure, the change will never come. At the end of the day, individuals are related by blood, but their attitude towards each other determines if they consider each other family.