Sunday, April 12, 2009

Family Evolution

When I was a child, my family in Canada consisted of my parents and sisters; the closest relatives we had were an uncle in the U.S. that we saw on occasion and his family. We took trips to Egypt to visit extended family every few years, but in reality we made family in Ottawa to compensate. I think back over my childhood - all the way up to university - and lose count of the "aunts" who became my aunts, the girls my age who acted as substitute cousins. These were the people we spent our special occasions with: the people we saw during Eid and Ramadan and grew up around. In some ways, they were more than family, because we had chosen each other; in other ways, they would never really be family, and we each had our distinct, nuclear units because at the end of the day, we only had a certain common history, and no common blood.
I remember my excitement when my mother's youngest brother moved to Ottawa, how absolutely thrilled I was that I could start a story with "my uncle" at school, and really, truly mean "my uncle" and not a friend of the family. I remember how thrilled I was when my baby cousin was born and I had an actual cousin to play with and coo at within driving distance. In some bizarre way, the presence of relatives in the city validated Ottawa as my home. I had family here, close by.
Over the years, it became normal. My Canadian family grew as more cousins and second cousins made the move. Eid became a celebration at our house where, instead of my parents trying to find a way to surround us with company, we tried to figure out how to seat everyone around the table. My parents' house became the "family house", the house where everyone came together for events and holidays, the equivalent of my grandparents' house with the massive veranda in Alexandria. When my sisters got married, the family grew again in the form of brothers and their families. Until that point, my only experience with brothers was through my male cousins, who played rough with us and pushed us in sports and up trees on our visits to Egypt. Two cousins in particular served as my older brothers, teasing and joking with us through out the years. As they got older, they would come to North America to work in the summers, and then stop by Ottawa to visit for a couple of weeks before they returned for the fall semester.
Eventually, the older one moved to Ottawa; two months ago, the younger one moved to Toronto. Last night, he and his family came to visit at my in-laws' place, where we're visiting in TO for the long weekend. There was something remarkably unremarkable about looking around the living room, seeing M and his family and my "original older brother" and his family there all in one place, a new family extension forming. 
When I was little, I could count on one hand my extended family in north america. At one point, I couldn't even do that. I now need both hands and feet to do it, and I love it.

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