What’s a Family?

One of the greatest discoveries of my lifetime is that family is not just a bunch of people who happen to be genetically related to you, or a group of people you marry into.

Family is literally what you want it to be. Your pets are your family. Your friends are your family. Your neighbors are your family, Your coworkers are your family. You can choose your own family. So if you are dealt a shitty family that hurts you, doesn’t respect you, or abandons you, you can make your own family however you choose.

Growing up we spent a lot of time with my extended family on both sides. Not at the same time, but we alternated holidays between the sides. At Christmas, we did Christmas Eve with my dad’s parents and sisters and Christmas Day with my mom’s side. When I was young that seemed perfect because I got presents on the 24th, the morning of the 25th at home, and then the afternoon of the 25th wherever we were. It seemed perfect to me!

But as a young teenager I heard a story about my 3rd Christmas that made me sad. My parents had decided to give me a Barbie doll and asked my father’s mother to not get one for me because they wanted to see my face when I first opened it. Apparently I asked for it? I don’t recall ever caring much for Barbie, but whatever, not the point. My grandmother intentionally bought me a knock-off Barbie doll that I opened on Christmas Eve. Apparently I was excited. My parents were really upset and felt betrayed. And then in the morning, I barely noticed the Skipper doll they gave me. I hate that story. I hate that my grandmother took a moment from my parents intentionally. I have very strong feelings of dislike for that woman even now, 11 years after she passed away. She wasn’t nice to my mom. I didn’t see it until I was older, but once I did, I would shoot daggers at her with my eyes. How dare she speak to my mother like that? Or ignore my mother like that? How dare she keep mentioning my father’s ex-girlfriend that she had hoped he would marry. It took me forever to see that she was also being hurtful to me. I was more willing to dislike her for treating my mother badly than for the way she was treating me. But she was judging me all the time. She kept telling me while I was in college that she had my father at that age. That she was already an ADULT and I was just going to college and screwing around like a child. Then she had the nerve to approach me a year before she died and tell me that she always wanted a relationship with me but that my parents kept her from me.

And she became the very first person I was genetically related to but unwilling to count in my family. The second would be her daughter, my aunt.

My aunt never moved away from home, never started an adult life, never even had a sleepover as a child. When my father left home, her mother mentally held her so tight that she was unable to live a real life. She didn’t do anything that normal teenagers do. She went to law school. She had a good job as a lawyer. She hated it. She quit and went back to school for a two year degree in accounting. She didn’t do much with that. She never left home because there’s another sister. She has Down Syndrome. She’s lovely. I never had a problem with her, but circumstances have separated us. She can’t do anything for herself because she falls on the severe end of the DS spectrum. She used to be able to do a lot more, but over time she lost what she had. I can write another whole entry on her and the way her life took weird turns. But my grandmother guilted her older daughter into never leaving home so she could care for her sister.

After my grandmother died, my aunts moved back to Florida. And eventually they moved to Georgia, where we were at the time. It was miserable. My father had a lot of animosity with his sister and it was always awkward. My parents warned me that my aunt was a snake. I didn’t listen. I made the mistake of trusting her to watch my kids while I was deployed and my ex had to work. She had some strange unspoken expectations that I didn’t meet. And her revenge a year later was harsh and unexpected.

I was again deployed. I woke up to a million frantic “call me” messages and missed facetime calls from my ex. Child Protective Services (CPS) came by and wanted to see the house. They explained that someone had called them and said food was being locked away from the children, the children were being left alone inappropriately, that we both had anger management issues, and the house was a mess. This person also said one of the children kicked the cat and they were up all hours of the night. This person had no idea when their birthdays were or exactly how old the kids were.

I was stunned. I called my parents immediately. It wasn’t them. Plus they know the ages and birthdays. It couldn’t be the in-laws, they also knew the ages and birthdays. But who would do such a thing? Who knew about some of these things, like that we had a cat? There were other details too, that indicated that the calling was someone who had been in our house.

I didn’t sleep for three days. I kept turning over the details in my head. Who would think to talk about a 5 year old kicking a cat? And he didn’t kick the cat. He used to yell at the cat and we had to really work on getting him to stop. I laid in my bed every time I was supposed to be sleeping, saying the details out loud, repeatedly. And then I put it all together. It was my aunt. My parents told me in the course of our conversation that she expected we would take her to Disney World the next time we went. We did not. Why would we? We never promised her that. Hell, we never even mentioned it.

I emailed her and asked if she happened to be the one that made the call. She confessed that she was and then tried to defend herself. She had asked someone she knew and pretended to be “concerned” about the kids. She said she just was trying to help. I called her on it and said no, you dumped on me too. You lied about me and made up details of my life to fill in around what you didn’t know. Then she claimed to be crying and said she was sorry. She wasn’t. There was no way. And that’s when I told her we weren’t family anymore. If I saw her around town, I would pretend I didn’t know her. I would walk the other way. I told her she was never to stop by, call me, write me, anything. She was done with me and my kids.

My mother also confronted her and my father hasn’t really talked his sister since I told him it was her. My mother believes that she told her a story of how my oldest (who CPS determined was old enough to be home alone with the younger three) wasn’t watching the little two carefully enough and they got out of the house right as my parents drove up. You see, my parents lived 5 minutes away and could help as needed. They stopped in frequently and made sure the kids were ok. My aunt ran with the story and said I did not know how many predators were in my neighborhood. I did know. There were zero. Georgia has some of the strictest laws on predators living near school bus stops and the entire neighborhood is full of bus stops. My ex was also a police officer at the time. She wasn’t going to win this debate.

i have made my own family now. I have an amazing wife, amazing kids, my ex is ok, his family is awesome, my parents are cool, my friends are incredible, and I don’t need people who have secret expectations or plans for revenge in my family. I don’t have time for drama and emotionally unhealthy people who just want to make everyone around them miserable. No one has to keep “family” members who will hurt them in their life. You can build your own family full of loving, caring people who will look out for you!!

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