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Zoethe

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We are family [Aug. 3rd, 2010|07:43 am]
Zoethe
On the first day we were in Disney, our 6-year-old niece Morgan haughtily informed us that we were not her family.

Now, to some degree she has a point. Her mother is the step-daughter of Ferrett's mom, step-sister of Ferrett, so we have no blood relationship to her. But Gramma Pat has been a part of her life since she was born and was part of her mom's life since her pre-teen years. So everyone tried to reassure her that we were, in fact, family. Morgan was having nothing to do with it. "No you're not!" she insisted.

Morgan is the most stubborn and contrary of the nieces, so when dinner distracted the conversation we all just let it go, figuring that it was just the kid in one of her moods. But the topic kept coming up almost daily. "I don't want to go with you; you're not my family!" And, honestly, what with our all having lost the one real connection between us all, Bruce, last year, it was a little painful to hear her strong, defiant voice. So everyone tried brushing it off, the adults rolling their eyes at each other.

What we weren't hearing in that defiant voice was the tiny cry for reassurance. But it was hot and sticky and we were busy. Finally, on the third or fourth day, Pat asked, "Why do you think we're not family?"

"You don't have the last name as me," Morgan replied. We were about to get off a boat, and one of the other kids got sick and threw up, so our attempt at explaining that last names weren't what made a family was brief and unpersuasive. So the next day at the Magic Kingdom, we were hearing the same claims from her. Finally, there was a moment when we were waiting in the shade while others made a bathroom stop that I had the time to reflect on solving her problem. I got down to her level and told her that I had two sisters, and that when my sisters got married, they changed their last names. And I asked her whether that meant they weren't my family anymore. She thought about it for a while and agreed that they were still family. Then I reminded her of my own daughters, and how they had a different last name from mine, and weren't they still my family? Yes, she agreed, they were family. And then she understood: even though somewhere in school someone had made a connection between last names meaning family, family was more than that. After that, we heard no more arguments that we weren't family.

It was easy to dismiss her statements as her characteristic defiance, harder to recognize that she was, in her own way, trying to get someone to help her work this problem out. But it was a good reminder to me: sometimes you have to get past the hurtfulness of a person's words to hear the real question behind them.
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[User Picture]From: halfmoon_mollie
2010-08-03 12:20 pm (UTC)
Brava!
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[User Picture]From: jmfunnyface
2010-08-03 12:49 pm (UTC)
Well done.

Oddly enough, I was just going to write something in my journal about family. My uncle's niece was killed last week. She's not a blood relative, but we spent so much time with her growing up & shared Thanksgiving with her. I was so proud of my family to hear that my entire side went to her funeral-from young people up to my 84 year old grandfather. Blood or not, she was family.

My family doesn't have a rigid definition of who is or isn't family. My feelings got really hurt last summer by a friend tried to insist that my step-cousin wasn't really technically family b/c we're not related by blood. I've known her since she was 4 (she's 27 now). It blows my mind that people would consider her little sister my full fledged cousin because we share DNA, and not her sister. I love them both the same.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2010-08-03 12:54 pm (UTC)
The DNA thing is only significant to prevent damaging intermarriage. Otherwise, it's a poor indicator. I'm certainly not related by blood to my husband or his family, but they are considered my family by tradition and legal rights. Why should that inclusion stop there?
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[User Picture]From: sestree
2010-08-03 01:15 pm (UTC)
Well done.

My ex and I had a completely blended family (his, mine and ours which was oddly enough adopted) and yes the kids needed reassurance because my step-grandaughter was 4 months younger than my (adopted) son. It was especially confusing because my (then) husband was 10 years old then I, I was 10 years older than his daughter and she was 10 years older than my oldest son. We finally had to stop depending on titles meaning the traditional things and just focus on who we were in the family scheme of things.

Sometimes the kids' need comes out in defiance, sometimes they isolate themselves and sometimes you just don't know.

Good on you picking up on it instead of just assuming the kid was a brat.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2010-08-03 01:22 pm (UTC)
I like kids and respect them, so I try to listen to them. Like all adults I sometimes get too busy and don't do as good of a job as I should, and I have very little tolerance for kids who won't communicate, which is at times a failing on my part since they are the ones who need the extra attention. But I do try.
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[User Picture]From: cyan_blue
2010-08-03 01:16 pm (UTC)
Very good lesson, that :) Nice going!
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2010-08-03 01:22 pm (UTC)
In some ways I do better with kids than with adults.
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[User Picture]From: aiela
2010-08-03 01:19 pm (UTC)
Coming from a family of six kids in which none of them are full-blood siblings, this is something that's very dear to me. My dad had a younger half-brother and he always insisted that they weren't half of anything, and I felt that way about my sibs, too. (My stepbrother and I are not close because we're something like 20 years apart in age, but he's still my brother.)

With the pain of losing Bruce so recent, it would have been so easy to shush her and slap a bandaid over the pain of holding a family together when the center is gone (we've struggled with this since my mom died, and it's been 9 years now). Good on you for being able to talk to her and sort everything out - both for her sake and for the sake of everyone struggling to carry on when hearing words that cut so deep.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2010-08-03 01:26 pm (UTC)
We flew back on the anniversary of Bruce's death. It was only spoken of briefly, but it was very much in the minds of all of us. So I was very glad to be able to reach out to Morgan in a way that helped her understand.

I'm sure that whatever was said that made her think last names were all that counted was something she took out of context - it happens all the time to kids. I'm just glad Pat asked the question that helped me figure it out.
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[User Picture]From: firebirdgrrl
2010-08-03 01:23 pm (UTC)
Wow. I love how you get it right down to the bone. You rock and thanks for sharing this.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2010-08-03 01:28 pm (UTC)
Thanks.
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From: (Anonymous)
2010-08-03 01:24 pm (UTC)
Maybe I'm missing some tone of voice, or history of similar behavior, or maybe it's something to do with you knowing the result by the time you started writing, but when I read this I didn't hear "hurtful" (i.e., attempting to hurt another) in Morgan's declarations; if anything I heard "hurt."

But I suppose that's easy to say when you're not there, and it's not your recent bereavement.

In any case, good on ya for catching it.

-Alex
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2010-08-03 01:34 pm (UTC)
I don't think any of us thought she was saying it to be purposely hurtful, but she is the kind of kid that will tell you that black is white and then stick with it past the point of humor and into real defiance - something she was doing with other topics in the midst of all this. So we were just hearing Morgan defiance at first and missing out on the confusion and worry. That it hurt us was a function of the proximity to Bruce's death - we flew back on the first anniversary of the day he died.

I'm glad I picked up on it, and that Pat asked the question that let me figure out how to explain it in terms concrete enough for her to grasp.
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[User Picture]From: gardenwaltz
2010-08-03 01:47 pm (UTC)
I agree that you were right in this instance that the niece was family. After all, once you get down to the niece/cousin level, the connections are fairly elastic.

I have, however been on the receiving end of a claimed family relationship and I still find it creepy. Without getting too deep into a nasty divorce story the 'connector family member'(my husband's dad) deliberately estranged himself from the family. He remarried but my husband had no relationship with his stepmom. After we had a child, this step-mom-in-law wants my daughter to call her grandma because she always wanted a girl. Um, no. Family is defined by more than blood, but it does need to be earned in some way.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2010-08-03 01:55 pm (UTC)
That is a hard one, because it's close enough that her claim makes some sense, but demanding that kind of intimacy where there has been no relationship shows a total lack of sensitivity and the kind of pushy rudeness that would make me react the same way. Ick.
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[User Picture]From: heathrow
2010-08-03 02:04 pm (UTC)
My daughter Amelia (age 6) asked that about my father - how were we family if we didn't have the same name. I think it's something that becomes a bit confusing around that time. I shared with her that I used to have my father's name as my last name, and I did still carry it as my (now) middle name. I also told her that families are changing things, and I had gained two brothers when my father and stepmother married when I was in my 20s. She had her mind properly blown with that one.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2010-08-03 02:08 pm (UTC)
It may well be something to do with that age.
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[User Picture]From: roadnotes
2010-08-03 02:10 pm (UTC)
Well done. Conversing with small people is often the best way to help them.

(And sometimes it doesn't work. Two of my great-nieces have decided that I am weird because I "talk funny," meaning, pretty much, "like a white woman," and nothing I can do can convince them that no, I actually talk like some black people do, and it's not weird.)
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2010-08-03 02:18 pm (UTC)
Doesn't mean it's not working. Even resistance can be worn away by repetition.
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[User Picture]From: aiela
2010-08-03 02:23 pm (UTC)
When I was 3 or 4, my invisible friend was named "Angie Sherman".

Sherman is my siblings' last name. So yeah, I do think it's the age. You start noticing those things.
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[User Picture]From: lawchicky
2010-08-03 03:16 pm (UTC)
That's the thing about kids.. it's so easy to dismiss what they're saying as childish, but a lot of the time they're just trying to figure out the world around them.

I'm sure that once you explained everything it made BOTH of you feel better.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2010-08-03 03:36 pm (UTC)
It is easy to ignore kids, and too many people do. We definitely felt better afterward.
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[User Picture]From: veedub
2010-08-03 03:19 pm (UTC)
thanks, i needed that!
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2010-08-03 03:37 pm (UTC)
You're welcome!
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[User Picture]From: gabyrippling
2010-08-03 07:13 pm (UTC)
So you explained it by saying, "I got all my sisters with me!"

God, that's awful. I'm so sorry.
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From: (Anonymous)
2010-08-03 07:53 pm (UTC)
I'm mostly upset that I didn't think of it first.

Also, ow.

-Alex
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[User Picture]From: littlebuhnee
2010-08-03 08:25 pm (UTC)
Wonderful post. :)
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2010-08-03 08:32 pm (UTC)
Thanks.
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