Today I am filled with the sense of power and connectedness that comes from belonging to the kind of group that you would choose to join even if you hadn’t been born into it. I’m feeling the support that comes from being kept afloat by a whole bouquet of loving arms.
I am the second child in a family of six children. My mother was one of four, my father the youngest in a family of twelve. I have grown up in a pack of aunts, uncles and cousins, first, second and once removed. I have memories of holiday feasts and family vacations. Of family picnics and costume parties and trips to the World’s Fair. I have never, ever wanted for company or friendship or a sympathetic ear.
Naturally, there are both pros and cons to being one in a crowd of hundreds. As a young adolescent, I yearned for just one day with my own closet, my own bedroom, my own drawer full of socks. I sometimes felt suffocated by the expectations that came with being the oldest girl in a big Italian family. I made up daydreams in which I was a lonely only child. With a big ol’ lonely bedroom all to herself.
Every teacher that I ever had (or so it seemed) knew my cousins, my brother, my parents or my somewhat famous baseball-player Uncle. I came with a whole suitcase full of history and stories and past events in which I had had no part.
I used to feel like I could never be an individual, free-standing, self- sufficient human being. I used to feel as if I would never, ever manage to break free of the family crowd to stand on my own merits. I used to feel like maybe there was just a little too much togetherness happening in our house.
But many years have passed since those years of teen angst. Now I am the mother of three grown children. Now I am the daughter of a father who has passed and a mother who is getting older. Now I understand the strength and safety that comes from being one part of a greater whole.
My kids love having each other around. I know that they celebrate together, and I suspect that they find times to gripe about their parents together. They love those times when they are sharing jokes and food with their cousins. They like the fact that they have big, loving gangs on both sides of their family. My husband’s crew is as close and as fun loving as mine.
Today my brother and his wife are grappling with the fear that comes from having a son who is battling cancer. They are upset, confused, angry and scared. They are overwhelmed. And they are being held up and kept afloat by the love and hope and security of the family. Our arms are outstretched, entwined; a bouquet of strength and energy. The family will gather around and come together.
A few years ago, one of my uncles proposed a toast as we all gathered to honor the memories of my maternal grandparents. He raised a glass of wine and said the words of the toast. A few months after that day, two of my children and two of their cousins had the words tattooed on their bodies:
“Sempre la famiglia”.
“The family forever”.