You can choose your family

This Christmas, my parent’s tiny beach shack was crammed with people, all of them family in different ways. They were sprawled across the floor in every room, spilling into the shed and the house next door. We made huge bowls of salad, piles of sausages and enormous trifles. People came and went. We ate dinners together and looked at the stars and compared beach conditions at the various spots nearby (some better for surfing, some for bobbing lazily in the water).
I saw aunts and uncles and cousins. I spent time with my often distant grandfather, for the first time in my adult life. I made chocolate crackles with a cousin. I sat at a table with six men from three generations of my dad’s family and could see in their faces how alike and how different they are. Despite the branching twists of extended family, thanks to the trick of genetics something fundamental in us is the same. But that isn’t all that makes us family. We’re also family because of the buried treasure we spent hours searching for as kids and the elaborate games we invented, because of Christmas concerts and hours of Monopoly and Hide and Seek.

This year, I spent Christmas with my boyfriend for the first time. We welcomed him into the crush of my inherited and adopted family, and I thought about how he’s my family too. It occurred to me, again, how strange it is that we confine so many ideas to traditional romantic relationships. It is expected that we will choose that one person and they will become family. It’s more difficult to explain, harder to find the words, when you choose other people and claim them as family too.
Mum and dad have always welcomed our friends. They’ve never minded the bustle and the noise. When I apologise for us talking long into the night and keeping them awake, they tell me that they like listening to us laugh. Walking along the beach this year, shortly after the bulk of our visitors had headed home, I talked to mum about how nice it is to have the house full of people I love. She talks about how she’d always wanted a big family, with a whole gang of children. On weekends like this, she has that – this sprawling collection of people we’ve adopted.

Spending summer in this place with these people felt more like home than any place in an awfully long time. Living far away from so much of my family, it’s easy to forget what it feels like to sit around a table together, packed so close that you have to hold your elbows in to eat. I miss stepping over people in a darkened lounge room or waking up to the gentle hum of arguments over the crossword. It’s easy to forget how important that cacophony of voices is.  

Ever since I was small, I knew that family was a thing you made. My parents have always welcomed people into our lives. I’ve always had a sprawling, mismatched family that radiates out in concentric circles. And I’m so grateful to have chosen the one that I have.

Further reading

December – home

I spent the first minutes of 2018 on the beach. I’ve never actually spent New Year