My small daughter came home from her private kindergarten class in tears one day. “Mom,” she said, “I want a family.” I was a divorced woman, so it was just me and my daughter, plus my parents who loved my daughter more than their own. “Nikki,” I said, “You do have a family. I’m your family, and so is PaPa and Nana.”
“But, I don’t have a real family, one with a daddy and a brother or a sister.” I wondered where Nikki got the idea that a real family must have a mother, a daddy, and a sibling, so I asked her. “My friend at school told me that her mother said she should feel sorry for me because I don’t have a real family, because I don’t have a daddy who lives with me, and because I don’t have a little brother or a sister.”
“Nikki,” I said, “A family is a unit who loves you and when you love that unit back, this makes that unit your family. Your family unit consists of me, Nana, and PaPa.” I explained how we spent our holidays with the ones we love, Nana and PaPa. I also told how Nana and PaPa did things for us that family tends to do for other people, like babysit, take trips together, shop for Christmas, and many other things. “Nikki,” I said, “Family is who you want your family to be, so the next time your friend tells you that you don’t have a family, tell her that you do.”
I never knew what happened at school after my conversation with Nikki. Did she ever tell her friend that she had a family? Was the idea even important past that day? Did she quickly forget her tears? I didn’t. Years down the road, I had a falling out with my mother, and this falling out kept me from enjoying the holidays with my family. I always remembered Nikki’s tears that day and made sure that she knew she had a family, so I always took her to her Nana’s and PaPa’s house every single holiday, and I spent the holiday alone. Yes, I missed her, but I needed to make sure that Nikki never shed another tear from thinking that she didn’t have a family, so I made sure that lots of family surrounded her each holiday.
One day, in her early twenties, Nikki asked, “What are we doing for Thanksgiving?” This surprised me. I knew that she’d be going to gather with my family (as she had for more than ten years) in my hometown for Thanksgiving, and I’d do what I always did, go to several movies alone. “Why do you ask this, Nikki?” I said. “You always go to my parents’ house, and I always go to the movies.” She gasped. “Mother, this cannot happen! You’re my family, and we’re supposed to be together on the holidays.”
I looked at Nikki with a stunned look. I stood quiet for a long time. I wondered at what point in her life she realized that I was the center of her family, the one that loved her enough to devote my entire life to her. I shrugged my shoulders and said, “Whatever.” I hoped she didn’t see the tears behind my whatever attitude.