Hello people of the internet! My name is Dynell; I live in California with my husband and two little boys. Keegan is 7 and Thatcher is 2. They are wonderful, beautiful, smart, energetic and hilarious boys and they are so, so incredibly loud. Like, really, really loud. All of the time. I myself am quiet; I love television, fried foods and dessert. When Steph asked me to write a post for this series she’s doing I was surprised and completely intimidated. I mean, have you read her posts?! She’s amazing.
It seems simple enough, what comes to mind when I see “Family Is”. But for me it’s not simple. My thoughts around this statement are wrapped up in so many varying and deep emotions. To explain it all would take far too long for this post but I’m gonna need to give you at least a little background or you’ll be all like “whaaat?”. So, I’ll do my best to make sense and not ramble on for too long, but I make no promises.
When I was growing up my family was crazy, loving, painful, fun, disconnected, full of conflict, fighting, joy and dysfunction. I have memories of potlucks and paddy wagons, food fights, snowball fights and fist fights. Now when I say my family had fights and dysfunction I mean fights. Knock down, choking, people being hauled off to jail kind of fights. Fights that lasted for year’s kind of fights. Siblings disowning our family kind of dysfunction. Family taking family to court dysfunction. My family was crazy, but they were mine and I loved them.
When my father met my mother he was a spry young lad of 60 years old and my mom was the ripe old age of 27. She already had a daughter from a previous relationship and my father was a widow with seven children he and his wife had adopted. My mother is white and father is black and many people were not thrilled with their relationship, including my father’s family. I never met any of my father’s family but I’m told that when my mother was pregnant with me my father’s mother sent the typical grandmotherly well wishes like “I hope the baby is stillborn or deformed.” Wow, thanks, grandma.
After just a few short years together my father passed away. I was only 15 months old when he died so I have no memories of him, but from what I hear he was a pretty great guy and an amazing cook. So here’s my mom, all of a sudden she’s a widow with 9 children and no real support system. We had my grandmother and great grandmother on my mom’s side around and some uncles and cousins, but they weren’t exactly healthy relationships. Everyone did the best they could but mistakes were made and these years carried a lot of pain.
I loved my family but it was not an easy one to be a part of. I felt unsettled and scared in it and also loved and like I was supposed to be a part of it. I was the youngest and when I entered the picture, hurts had already happened and grudges were firmly in place. I felt a responsibility at a very young age to keep the peace and not cause any more strife. It was not a place where I could be vulnerable. I couldn’t voice my hurts or struggles. I saw all too often, family members taking delight in others struggles or pain or failures. Family were the people you protected but they were also the ones you had to protect yourself from because they knew just where to twist the knife to cause the most pain.
Those early years were tough but as everyone has gotten older and we have lost parts of our family and realized that we won’t always have each other, the fights have lessened, grudges have been put aside, hurts have been forgiven and some healing has happened. In the past 4 years we have lost a brother and two of our sisters. And in those hard times, when we have lost a part of us, I’m reminded that even though we have sometimes felt disconnected, there is this thread woven through all of us. One of love and heartache and joy and pain and a shared life… good and bad. We have been through a lot together, we are connected and we are family.
When I met my now husband I was 16 and he was 17. He was the first person I remember meeting, or at least really getting to know, who had a mother, a father and BOTH sets of grandparents. And, get this, no one cussed anyone out! I’m not joking; it was like the twilight zone. They were the kind of family that I’d heard rumors of. The ones who never had to call the cops on each other or send one of them away when they came banging on your door drunk or high at 3 A.M. They supported one another and genuinely wanted the best for each other. This is when family began to take on a new meaning and it was strange and sometimes uncomfortable simply because I didn’t know how to be in this kind of family. I was like, “Wait a minute, so you’re telling me we all just sit here and have a nice dinner and talk and no one throws a fork at anyone’s head???” So. Strange.
When I was 29 we had our first child and the thought of family, the family our kids would one day write a blog about, became terrifying in a whole new way. Because now there’s another human being depending on you to do this family thing right and that’s a lot of pressure! I’m sure for other people this probably sounds crazy… family is fun, exciting, full of joy, right?! But for me, I never had any good examples to follow so I was scared and felt a sense of responsibility and pressure not to fail like I had never known before.
I wanted to give my children the perfect childhood. I never wanted to lose my patience or yell or be selfish or make any mistakes at all. And I don’t know if any of you are aware of this or not but that is freaking impossible! There are just SO MANY ways to screw this up! I put an immense amount of pressure on myself and for that and a few other reasons I ended up in a deep depression. But that’s a whole other blog post. My children are precious to me. I have a chance to start a new family legacy for them. Not a perfect one (that would probably be really boring anyway) but a family that includes an environment where they can be loved and celebrated and supported. Where they can be vulnerable and safe. Where we can laugh and tease each other and have fun but we can also have arguments and get angry with one another and we will always know that our love and our place in this family is secure and it is not hanging in the balance when we disagree.
In 2011 we moved away from family, to California, to plant a church with two other families. It has been in these last four years that God has shown me and surrounded me with a new kind of family. Now my family includes these amazing friends who we have done life with over the last four years. I love their kids and they love mine. They encourage and love us and cheer us on. They listen and stay in the dark places with me when I can’t seem to move just yet. They know more about me then I thought anyone ever would (besides my husband) and they love me through all of my junk, which is no easy task. We laugh and have fun with each other. We are each other’s emergency contacts and I know they would be there anytime, anywhere if we needed them. Not because they have to or because they’re obligated to, but because they love us. They have a choice and they choose to love us. This, my friends, is a beautiful thing to have and I am beyond grateful for it.
This last week was a tough one for me personally and it is still strange to me to have these amazing women around me praying for me through tough times and celebrating my victories instead of taking pleasure in my defeats. They help me to be a better mother, wife, friend and person.
There were many times in my life when I thought it might be better to just cut ourselves off, keep our circle small and not mess with all of the “junk” that can come with family. But I’m so glad we didn’t do that, if we had I would have missed out on old relationships that have been healed and restored and new ones that have brought me immense joy and breathed new life into me. Family is no longer the ones I need to protect myself from or the ones I need to keep the peace with. Family has become the ones that I can be vulnerable with, where I can share my joy and my struggles. Family is where I am loved; it’s where I am safe.
Family is precious. Family is worth the work. Family is worth fighting for.
(P.S. Kudos to you if you actually made it through the whole thing. That was a long one! Good thing I made no promises about rambling on. You deserve a snack. Preferably something sweet or fried, or both. J)