Tuesday, March 20, 2007


The other night I was talking on the phone with the Cmdr. and I mentioned Manimal comes from a very large family. While it's really nice and fun at times, it can be confusing. Newbies to the family are easily identified by the deer-caught-in-the-headlights look. You might want a pen and paper for this. Before I continue, yes, they are Catholic. (Trust me, you'll see.)

Manimal's the eldest of six siblings. The youngest was a foster child that has since been adopted, and he's only going on ten, but everyone else has at least two kids. Those eldest five beget thirteen children of their own. Now, let's step back a generation. Ted was the middle of eight; my MIL, the eldest of seven. When you factor in that all of those siblings had children of their own, which are Manimal's cousins, it really starts to add up. With the exception of an uncle who hasn't married, I don't think any of them had less than two or three kids. And since the lot of his cousins is of childbearing age, they also have procreated...again...two or three a piece. A virtual slew of second and third cousins. Or is it two or three cousins twice removed??? Are you with me so far?

Remember the foster child reference above? Heh. Littlest bro is not the only adopted child in the extended family. In addition to the foster care MIL has provided to numerous children over the years, she's had at least two siblings who also fostered special needs kids, and they too have adopted several children. However, no distinction is made between birth, adopted or step children. They're just added to the pot, so to speak. At times, I've wondered if all the children present at a gathering belong there, or if the paperboy just snuck in because he thought it would be fun to hang out.

Keeping it all in order wouldn't be as confusing if each generation just slowly drifted their seperate ways, right? The real kicker here is how close the extended family remains...a gathering can seem like a small town has invaded. If one can get past the panic, the love really shines through.

Let's face it. In a situation like this, the towel on keeping proper track of who's who has to be thrown in at some point. I'm pretty sure 1975 was the point. The current rule of thumb appears to be: adults are referred to as Auntie or Uncle, whether they are or not. If you're little, you're a Cousin.

While this can be helpful, it can also be a hindrance. These titles are usually mental cues to help one get a grasp on the relationship ties formed within the chaos. So if one relies only on these, one is screwed. May as well insert foot in mouth and ask someone to pass the ketchup. In trying to imagine this, have you stopped to consider age gaps? Off the top of my head, I know Manimal probably has at least one aunt and uncle who are only three or four years older than him. You didn't forget to add in the SPOUSES, did you? Pretty sure at least one Auntie-by-marriage is Manimal's age. He recalls when she married into the family, he thought she was hot. I've seen pictures. He was in uniform. Now remember...this is a close-knit Catholic family, so you can't forget the parents and siblings of the spouses that have been brought into the fold after the I Do's. They are family too. No folks, I'm not kidding. Confused? Try being there.

The first time Manimal took me to B.C., a SIL and I were alone at MIL's house when Apple phoned to say she was on her way over. SIL told me Apple wanted to know if I would like a Starbuck's. The look of sheer panic on my face must have been priceless because she laughed her ass off before gently saying, "Apple is a cousin. She's Auntie Ellpa's daughter. Relax. We still get confused sometimes." Several trips and many years later, I've finally lost that look...only because I realized I'm really not the only one who's confused. This trip, Manimal even asked me a few times who people were. I'd recount it was Uncle Five's daughter's adopted son, or Auntie Three's nieces' grandson. Once I looked at him and shrugged. "Beats me."

So if it's all very confusing to adults, just imagine being a child growing up in this family. Trying to make sense of it all, armed with titles that aren't titles, and what Catholics teach children about where babies come from...Mermaid's seven year old son, Hollywood, can certainly be forgiven for this little faux pas.

After Ted's funeral, a large group of adults were reminiscing while a large group of children played on the floor. Mermaid had a brief marriage after high school to Ike; they didn't have children and the marriage was annulled. Her current husband has a daughter from a first marriage, and they also have two boys together. As the stories flowed, Ike's name came up several times.

Finally, Hollywood piped up loudly: "Who's Ike?"

Silence. You just have to know a few were waiting to see how this would play out. The adults quietly sat back and drank their beer. Imagine Mermaid's delight at having this conversation in front of a group of relatives?

"Honey, you remember Mommy and Daddy were married before, right?"

"You're married now."

"Yes," she said patiently. "But Daddy was married before, and that's where Teeny came from."

"Uh huh."

"Then Mommy and Daddy got married"

"So you coud get me and my brother."

"That's right. But Mommy was married before too, remember?"


"Ike was my husband before I got married to Daddy."

"Oh, right," he nodded wisely. And then, in his very loud voice, he innocently demanded, "But you didn't have SEX though, right?!?"

Poor Hollywood. Wait 'til he figures out why everyone was laughing so hard.

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