Just about 12 years ago, we were gathered at a French restaurant. It was Bastille Day, so the music was loud and colors flashed as dancers moved between tables.
So, I barely heard his words when my older brother raised his glass for a toast.
“Congratulations,” he began.
Everyone looked confused for a moment.
“Congratulations to you and you,” he continued, pointing to my parents and his wife’s parents, “Because you’re going to be grandparents.”
For just a moment, the entire table was silent. Then, both grandmas-to-be yelped with excitement.
I, however, started weeping tears of joy.
I don’t quite know what came over me.
I couldn’t believe my big brother was becoming a father.
Or that I would, by association, be an aunt.
Now, this heart-warming scene and my joyful tears might lead you to believe that I’m particularly close to my brother. The truth is, though we were eager childhood playmates, we never quite connected as young adults.
We’re just different enough, with just enough baggage, to feel slightly uncomfortable — without having any real animosity.
So, my tears shocked me.
Even at that very moment in the restaurant, I wasn’t planning on weekends with my first niece or nephew. I didn’t foresee snuggling, or reading books or even feeding the baby a bottle.
Yet, I was overcome with emotion.
At the time, my brother stared at me. While the two sets of soon-to-be grandparents congratulated each other and beamed, I wiped away tears.
“What’s wrong with you?” He asked me incredulously.
“I don’t know,” I admitted.
Fast forward 12 years, with four of my own children and three nieces arriving, I get it now.
I was joyful, enough to spark tears, because they’re family.
And, with family, it doesn’t really matter — it doesn’t matter how close you are or how often you talk. It doesn’t matter if you have the same ideas about parenting or religion. If you get in touch once a year or every other day, you’re still connected.
These three little girls, including one who just arrived last month, will always be part of my life. Just like my grandmother, who passed away before I was born.
And my cousins, who I’ve seen once or twice since birth.
These people are my family.
No matter how long it’s been or how distant the connection, I will be there for these people.
I’d take them in, welcome them in my home and celebrate their victories.
I’ll be there with them during the hardest moments, like when we need to say goodbye.
It’s something I didn’t quite understand when I was younger, sitting across from my brother and his wife at the restaurant more than a decade ago.
But, today, as my children lay sleeping upstairs and I’m getting text messages with pictures of my newest niece, it’s so much clearer.