I am the youngest of nine children, with 30 years spanning between me and my oldest sibling. I have nieces and nephews that are older than me and when I was 17, I became a great-aunt for the first time (at 22 I have three great nephews). I’ve frequently been mistaken as my brother’s daughter and my father’s granddaughter, and it’s not uncommon to hear people refer to my sister as my aunt.
I didn’t realize that our family was strange until about the fourth grade. My parents raised us to treat our siblings all equally, regardless of age, marital status or how many children they had that were a full decade older than me. So I had no problem joking around and playing with my 40-something brother the same as my sister who was only three years older than me. It was a little complicated because my dad had children with his first wife, so these were technically my half-siblings. However, that term was strictly forbidden in our household. I perceived no difference in our relationship dynamic, even though for all intents and purposes they were considered to be adults. I guess I saw them as siblings first and adults second.
That was until I was getting picked up for a doctor’s appointment by my 40-something sister. I had excitedly been telling my classmates that my oldest sister was picking me up early from school, and this rightly so confused their tiny little heads. When she showed up outside my classroom door, ready to whisk me away, the students thought I was a liar. It took years for them to realize that she was not my mom, or my aunt—just my older sister, with an emphasis on the “old.”
There were many instances of running into my nieces and nephews at social events and being paraded around their group of friends with shouts of, “Yes! She really is my aunt! Go on, Maggie, tell them!” and so on. A mortifying instance for any 12-year-old, and I was not exempt. I started openly avoiding my extended family in public, or brushing them off as my cousins, since that was easier explanation, though not at all true. This went on for most of my childhood, until high school when I actually had to start going to school with my nieces, and the explanations began. At one point I considered creating a graph or Venn Diagram of my family to carry around at all times for when the subject was brought up.
I’m not going to lie to you, growing up with this kind of family dynamic was weird. I couldn’t introduce friends to my older brothers and sisters without their eyes widening and going, “Wait, how OLD are your parents?!” and frequently had my nieces mistaken for my sisters. We were always met with some odd glances, but eventually people just learned to accept it, and finally so did I. I even learned to wield this strange dynamic to my advantage, whether as a startling ice breaker or an extremely useful tool for “Two Truths And A Lie” (I’m still the reigning champion at that game).
The only time I didn’t feel off-center with my family in public was when we were obsessing over our collective love of Harry Potter, our one true equalizer. Whether it was at midnight book releases or early film screenings, you could expect to see my whole family there dressed in robes, wands in hand and probably having our decade long debate over whether or not Snape was a good guy. Maybe it was because seeing a group of people from ages 15-60 all dressed up and babbling about this boy wizard was a stranger sight than the bizarre dynamics of my family, so people accepted it without question.
My family dynamic has been something I’ve struggled with my entire life and I think I am finally at peace with it. It’s a weird fact about me that no one would believe in this day and age, and yet it might be my favorite thing to tell people. I just need to remind myself that I am under no obligation to make strangers understand how my family works, and I don’t need to answer their questions. I’ve spent a long time trying to bend my family into the societal norm, but not anymore. We’re a huge, loud, Harry Potter obsessed, loving family and while the logistics of it may be a little complicated, I wouldn’t change it for the world.
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