One of the highlights of commuting with my “adult-ing” cousin is listening to her stories about our family when she was younger.
This morning, her stories were about our mothers, how they acted as mothers to their nieces and nephews, and how spoiled the boys and eldest babies (me included) were. The previous weeks it had been about her childhood and how, like me, she had also been pressured by her mom to excel in school. Each time, I’d get a sense of how our family dynamics were before I was born and during my toddler days, and I’d learn a little bit more about the people I call family.
Being a kid who liked occupying only a tiny space in this world and enjoyed listening to her own thoughts, I never really bothered with family history before. I kept to myself most of the time and during reunions, I never really felt obligated to form personal bonds with each tito, tita or cousin (those older than me only), or at least get to know them in a deeper sense.
This was my logic when I was younger: they won’t be around as much, but at the same time, I won’t lose them, so I didn’t really have to make much of an effort to keep them. I acknowledged their existence and assistance, and as mean as this sounds, that was it for me. I just didn’t really attach myself. (This was also partly because my awkward self didn’t know how to. I mean, was I supposed to bear hug them every time I see them or would that be weird since there’s an unspoken five-inch rule between kids and adults? I don’t know. I didn’t have manuals for social interaction).
Part of me hates how I just didn’t let them in early on. I missed out on so many could-have-been moments. I didn’t become malambing (though maybe once upon a time, I was). I saw their love an concern for me as something to be expected, and I didn’t give it back in any way that I could (though I don’t really know how tbh). In a way, my family (outside the nuclear one) to me felt like shadows passing by at times because I failed to reach out.
Part of me couldn’t blame myself. That was just who I was. I locked myself in, not because that was how I was raised but because it was natural to me. I liked being alone. I liked thinking (and over-thinking) and I couldn’t help it. And if I blame myself for being who I am, then, I’d just feel awful.
Now that I’m older, I guess, life has taught me to be more grateful and to open myself up, and it’s teaching me that I could do so without having to sacrifice my personality. Perhaps, I can try to mature and to be more welcoming to opportunities for more meaningful moments even if sometimes, I would have to compromise my me time. I’d just have to know my limits and to what extent I can commit.
Family is important to me and it took me twenty years to open 55% of my eyes to see it. They aren’t just people I celebrate holidays with or people who give me hand-me-downs when I need it. I see them now as individual characters, persons, with their own quirks, motivations and dreams. I see the red strings that tie our lives together. And I see how our stories have more depth now because of those realizations.
Maybe, after two decades of existing, instead of just listening to family stories, I could try to be part of one.