Thank you so much for the kind condolences (and hilarious stories) on yesterday’s post about Nat. It really did offer a huge, bright ray of light in an otherwise icky sort of a day.
This morning I woke up thinking about him. About the idea of a stepgrandfather. About how the language we use to describe our families in 2011 often seems so very inadequate.
There were moments yesterday that I felt inclined to correct a few of kind words from friends about my “grandfather”–he wasn’t exactly my grandfather. But then, he wasn’t some sort of sub-grandfather either; some lesser grandfather, deserving of lesser well wishes. He was a grandfather. Just not a grandfather I was born to.
How do we say that in less than a paragraph?
There are so many people like this in our 21st century family lives now, aren’t there? Cousins, Second cousins, cousins through marriage and divorce. Ex-husbands of aunts, former in-laws, future in-laws, and of course all those wonderful step-everythings. But for every qualifier that more tightly defines our relationship, ironically, it seems to suggest a less tight relationship.
In my family, stepparents are integral part of our lives. (Welcome, fellow children of divorce!) My children don’t distinguish much between Papa and Grandpa and Grandpa David, any more than I used to think of my father’s stepmother as a lesser Grandma. In fact, when my grandfather died the year I turned 13 and she immediately disowned our side of the family, it was crushing; all I knew is that my Grandma didn’t want us anymore.
She lost her right to the title after that. I referred to her as Roslyn from then on.
But that’s the exception. In fact, I have been wildly fortunate to have the step-family I do today, because they love me and my children as if we were blood relatives.
In fact I recall I used to get a big twinge of discomfort when my stepmother introduced me and my brother as her kids. It was as if I was being disloyal to my mother somehow by accepting her label without correction. It took me some time to realize it wasn’t territorial–it was a compliment. It was Amye’s way of bestowing unequivocal love on us. While she wasn’t my mother, of course, we were still the only kids she would ever have in her life.
Now that friends my age are stepparents themselves, and seeing them refer to their stepchildren as their own, I get it. I finally do.
The problem isn’t the relationship. It’s the limited words we have to describe it.
It’s not just a step-issue either. I wish there were a distinction between cousins and Cousins–the latter being those people you can’t imagine life without. I only have 4 of them on my mother’s side (they’re the ones I’m closest with) and we grew up as tight as could be, putting on elaborate shows for the family at any given holiday, making Momsie laugh until she cried, and creating inside jokes we still share that no one can ever understand.
Even today as adults, my Cousins’ successes feel like my successes. Their babies feel like my nieces and nephews. Even one of them absent from a single family event creates a void we all feel. I imagine I love them harder than most people do their own siblings.
(Oh and have I bragged about my cousin Ryan lately? Three words: Jeff Buckley screenplay. Hello.)
I don’t want my cousins to have the same title that people give to their distant uncle’s 16 kids who live in Romania that they’ve only seen once. I want them to have a special name. A name befitting of the relationship. Like a name I wish I had for Nat.
Things really are different in the 21st century, aren’t they.