Saturday, May 16, 2009

Make That 16

I've tried to begin this post so many different ways and I just can't find the right way to convey what I want to's my final attempt.

Growing up, I was enormously proud of having a large family. When I was little, I would run off when we were out in public and the very first thing I told people was, "I'm the youngest of 10 children!" Oftentimes, I was met with underwhelming ooohs and ahhhs, but it never dampened my enthusiasm for declaring how awesome I think it is to be a part of a big family (craziness, in-fighting and, sometimes, all out battles included!).

But, here's the thing. I am the youngest of 10 children, but I'm also technically an only child. And, really, I'm the youngest of 16.

Confused yet?

Somewhere along the line, I discovered that I had more siblings than I knew about. I used to play at my father's desk, and one day I came upon a stack of Father's Day and birthday cards addressed to my father, but they were signed by someone whose name I didn't recognize. I must've been 5 or so at the time, but I eventually pieced together that my father had other children, ones that wasn't being raised with.

Later on, when I was 11, I discovered that my mother had been married before and that all of the siblings I was growing up with were actually my mother's children from her first marriage (I always wondered why two of my brothers had different last names!). Finally, I put together that one of my sisters, K, is my father's child from a previous marriage. I know, it's a bit of a soap opera.

Let me sum it up for you: my mother was married once before and had 8 children. My father had been married twice before. He had 6 children with his first wife and my sister K with his second wife. K's mother died when she was young and my mother raised her and later adopted her, and then I came along - a very unexpected event and the only child of my mother and father - and never knew anything other than the family of 10 that I was raised with (although the majority of my siblings are considerably older than I, but that is my norm; as a child, I just accepted it as part of the quirkiness of having a large family).

For the record, my brothers and sisters and I do not think of ourselves as "half" siblings. As far as I know, the distinction has never really been made (although, now that I'm older, we do talk about "my" father and "their" father, but N and P consider my father to be more of a father than their birth father and I know that my older siblings generally regard my father with affection). Simply, we are all family.

Over the years, I've thought about the brothers and sisters that I had "somewhere out there" - the ones from my father's first marriage. I was 6 when my father died and never had the chance to revisit the discovery of that stack of cards I found in his desk. My mind would wander, though, and I would wonder if my other siblings knew about K and me. If they wondered what we were like or how we were. I had some vague knowledge of their whereabouts (mostly in Massachusetts) and flirted with the idea of finding them when I got older. Nothing ever came of it, though. I did know that one brother, Frankie, died when I was young. He was quite popular with the siblings on my side and would apparently visit us frequently when I was little. Frankie was the only one I ever really heard anything about and, to this day, M, P and Mom recall him fondly.

As I grew older, my mother would talk more about my other siblings if I asked, but she didn't know much else about them, aside from their names. My maiden name is fairly common, so if I did search for the names I knew, a slew of hits came back and I could never be certain that I'd found an actual sibling. For the most part, though, I pretty much let it go.

Cut to January: J had been researching his family tree and found a website that he really liked. He got one of his aunts involved, and they proceeded to fill in a whole bunch of their family history. J got to feeling a little sad that I didn't know much about my other siblings, so he asked for one of their names just to see if anyone happened to have a family tree on the website. I gave him Frankie's name and...drum roll, please...within seconds he hit upon a tree! I couldn't view it in its entirety until I was invited by the person who'd made it, so I fired off a quick, somewhat awkward email to the woman who started the tree. Within half an hour, she responded!

After years of wondering, suddenly I was connected with one of my other siblings! It was amazing. Cyndee and I have been in contact since late January and, today, we met for the very first time. Her brothers and sisters are a little more wary about the situation and that's fine. It's been 27 years since our father died, so I can understand the apprehension. For her part, K's not particularly interested in establishing contact, but I've always been more family oriented than she is so I'm not at all surprised by her reaction.

It was a lovely meeting. Cyndee drove all the way up here to meet J, the kids and me. She even brought Liam and Ella gifts, which I thought was fabulously sweet. She shared some pictures of our father that she'd received from one of our paternal aunts and it was wonderful to see them. Ever since we made the date to meet, I've been frantically searching for my photo album so that I could share some pictures with her, but it's been misplaced in all of the random stashing of things that we've had to do since the kids were born. I will find it, though. Cyndee and I went out for a nice lunch and it was great to get to know one another a little more. I do worry that my contacting her has shaken up Cyndee's world, as well as her siblings', but, for my part, I'm very happy to have met one of my sisters and I hope that she enjoyed our meeting as much as I did.

There is a lot of insanity that comes along with being part of a large family, but I wouldn't have it any other way and I'm happy that mine is still growing.


Lorraine said...

wow, heather. that was so interesting to read. that is a whole lot of kids!

Cheryl Lage said...

This is a wonderful post and testimony to what family TRULY is---way beyond mere biology. :)