Climbing our family tree

Just recently, I became a grandmother again. The joy of seeing my daughter give birth to what would be the next generation of our clan filled me with pride. As a mother of a blended family, I have learned that the significance of family doesn’t always come with blood, but the love you cultivate in the relationship of family. During this past year, relationships and connection to kin has taken on new significance for me. Even friendships looked different this year, as we retreated to our homes and safe spaces. Our focus was on the tight circles that surrounded our loved ones and our lives. We placed our arms around our little world and unintentionally disengaged from those who fell outside of it, if only by a little. It was a time when I felt more alone than I had in a long time. I longed for my missing family and social connection and the meaning these relationships brought to my life.

As many likely did, my family explored the boundaries of our ancestry to research our origins. We wanted to know more about from where we came, and learn about the distant relatives mentioned by our aging parents each holiday and family reunion. Surprisingly, as we began to climb our family tree, we discovered branches we had never seen. As leaves on our tree, each photograph and census report hinted at stories and a history we had yet to uncover. Not only did we match our genetic leaves with others in our past, but we learned about our ethnic heritage and those ancestors who had a knack for business. We became detectives and uncovered the hidden stories about those who suffered loss and married again. School photographs shared confirmation of an education, and the births, deaths, and marriages told stories of hardship and the baby who didn’t survive. Most of all, we climbed our tree high enough to reach a branch we’d never seen before, living family we could meet and with whom we could share the love that would eventually deepen our roots and strengthen our family tree. We found new family who, with a phone call or an email, became our daughter, our sister, our grandmother, and aunt.

Discovering new family was scary, but exciting in a way we had not expected. In my midlife, I have often looked back at how much my tiny family before motherhood has grown from the sapling of my childhood to a craggy oak tree of motherhood and beyond. Whether by blood or by bond, this seasoned oak continues to be enriched by each family member who sprouted roots in this fertile ground. I hope that as we grow the shade we provide continues as well.

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