Vignettes in Aging – Family

In the last ten years I’ve been feeling sorry for myself about not having any members of my family of origin still around. There were only four of us:  my mom and dad and my sister, who was three years older. We were dysfunctional in all the classic ways, but we were a unit. Now, when there is something exciting – or horrible – to share, I reach for the phone to call one of them. But, no.

What is family? It’s much more than just your family of origin. During her acceptance speech at the DNC, Kamala Harris talked about “the family you’re born into and the family you choose.” She said, listing out members in both categories: Family is her husband and her two step kids as well as her sorority sisters, her best friend, her godchildren, a couple of teachers, and her grandmother.  “Family is also my uncles and my chittis,” which is a Tamil term of endearment for her aunts.

As we were growing up, lots of us picked the parents of one of our friends as sort of a surrogate family when our mom and dad seemed out of touch with us as youngsters and teens. Did you ever say, “Oh, your mom is sooooo cool”? I did. I’ll never forget when my friend Alma and I, at about eight years old, were playing in the creek not far from our houses – where I wasn’t supposed to be and, when I fell in, Alma’s mother washed and dried my clothes so my mother wouldn’t know. Her mom was the best, and I wish she’d been my mom then.

So, while you can’t pick your biological family, you can pick the emotional one.

Who is your family? What special role did a member from your surrogate family, if you had one, play in your life?