My mom’s birthday is today, and it also happens to be the beginning of Family Weekend. Lately, I feel like I have been rediscovering my family. Growing up, my family lived in a different area of Chicago, so we didn’t interact with my cousins or extended family members much. Unfortunately, tragedy struck this spring when my great uncle died. Since this event, though, I have noticed my parents, siblings and I interacting with our extended family members more and more.
We began by visiting my mother’s old neighborhood in Humboldt Park, which was very different from what it used to be. My cousin told me the neighborhood hit rock bottom years ago but is now building itself back up. This is evident by the fact that there are frozen yogurt shops and an abundance of young men and women wearing clothes ironically. However, the gentrification was not enough to totally change the landscape of my mother’s old block. She is able to point out places where she would play, the curb where she was once hit by a bike, the drugstore she and her cousins would buy treats from and so much more.
My great aunt’s home was largely the same, a big apartment building that was shared with other family members. I’ll admit that I was nervous about re-meeting some of them. I’m naturally shy as it is, and my cousins are very affectionate. They are happy to give hugs and compliments and there are so many of them (my mother has 43 cousins) that I was afraid of being overwhelmed. But as it turned out, my fears were pointless. They were curious about me and my brother. They wanted to know: How were we doing in school? Did we have a boyfriend or a girlfriend? Did we have a job for the summer and so on? And as I began to learn more about my family, I began to learn more about myself.
I learned that my family has an abundance of teenagers. They talk about silly teenager-ish things that I barely understand. I’ll admit that I look at them with a certain amount of fascination and bewilderment. Is that the way teenagers dress now? Is that the music they like? Do they seriously spend hours upon hours on Facebook and Skype? I also feel a sense of responsibility to be a good role model for them. I’m sure to them I’m not that cool, but I want to be there more for their education. I want to help them with their college applications and other things. I was the baby in my family for a long time, so I’ve never really thought about being a role model before. Now, I feel like I should help them.
I have also enjoyed learning more about my family, especially my mother’s childhood. She was a bit more of a rapscallion in her youth than her present-day reserved self and it’s nice to see my mother share these memories with her relatives.
I also found a sense of camaraderie with my great aunt. She busies herself with various creative outlets. She makes her own jewelry (which she gives away for free), cooks and even knits clothing. I always felt like I was introverted like my grandfather, but it was nice to see a family member busy herself with different creative hobbies. I myself enjoy writing and drawing as hobbies. I guess that was where the sense of camaraderie developed. I find her endearing, almost like a kindred spirit. She’s creative and calm but knows when to put her foot down. It showed me that one does not have to be stereotypically tough in order to command respect. She earned her love and respect through kindness, something we can all learn from.
Rejoining family members is not always the easiest process. Here is a collection of people that just happened to be related to each other. Nothing is written down that says everyone is going to have a compatible personality, but we manage to work through it anyway. It’s fascinating to learn about the people who helped sculpt my mother to who she is today and vice versa. A neighborhood I once viewed with apprehension and fear now seems like a welcoming place in a big city.