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+11
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Pose this question to 10 different people and each one will have a different answer.
While in Cabo for Thanksgiving, I ran into a friend from high school I hadn't seen in more than 20 years. We spent a few minutes catching up, and then he asked if my husband and I would like to go out with him and his friends that evening.  

I politely declined, explaining that we were visiting with my whole family and planned on dining together. He looked at me and said, "Your whole family, Yana? Nothing has changed in 20 years, has it?" Seeing the look of shock on my face, he quickly added, "Don't you remember? You always missed the good times because you had to be with your family."  

I smiled, remembering the time I wasn't allowed to attend a costume party because my great grandmother was turning 85. I also remembered feeling resentful and bitter after hearing my friends talk about all the great times they had at the party. After all, why should anyone, especially me, have to miss a fabulous costume party just because great grandma was another year older?  

I looked at the man standing in front of me and recalled how he used to lecture me about how silly it was to listen to my parents and do what they said. Then I asked about his family.

Turns out he hardly sees his kids because he recently divorced and his wife moved to a different state. He doesn't get along with his dad, so he only sees his parents once or twice a year.  And his brother, who was a pain in the butt then, is still a pain in the butt. So they rarely get together. Apparently, not much had changed with my old friend either.
I invited him to dine with us that evening, but he quickly declined. We said our goodbyes and went our separate ways. Then, in one of those ironies of life that proves to me that God has a sense of humor, we ended up at the same restaurant with tables right next to each other. I couldn't help but laugh! Like it or not, my family would be in his face all evening.

You Don't Get to Choose Your Family

Fourteen of us came together for this vacation. My parents were celebrating their 45th wedding anniversary, and what better way than to share it with their kids and grandkids? Despite the occasion (or maybe because of it), all the usual family dynamics took place.
For example, I love my brother, but we can't get through dinner without getting into an argument. I constantly pick on my dad because when no one is looking he sneaks foods he isn't supposed to eat. My brother lectures his kids and mine, and I frequently add my five cents to his point of view. We discuss and debate all kinds of issues with so much passion that one might think our lives depended on the outcome.  

Because my brother and I mix two languages - Russian and English - I'm convinced that anyone watching must think we're about to start World War III. But that evening a man at a table next to us spoke Russian, and he understood everything that transpired. He watched in complete amazement as the dynamics of many united into one.

The thing is, we don't get to choose our family. They come in all shapes and sizes, but we love them anyway. Most of us can attest to a crazy aunt, a loud uncle, a cousin that is hard to bear, or a grandma that has lost a screw or two.  But all in all, family unites us and makes us whole, even in the worst circumstances.  As this man watched our family from the next table, our eyes occasionally met, and I knew he understood.

He watched my young niece and nephew mingle with my children. The six-year-old niece ran around hugging and kissing her "cousins," and took obvious delight in repeating the word over and over. Her cousins, even though much older, took the time to play with her at the table. They obliged her every whim while she showered them with gratitude kisses. Her brother, a bit older at 11, clearly regarded himself as a peer of my children. It was quite amusing to watch as he tried to act mature beyond his years in order to blend in with them.

The man also watched as our kids raised a toast to my parents and then to my husband and I, thanking us for this special vacation that they look forward to every year. He heard when our oldest daughter said that she hopes to pass the torch to her kids in the future and continue to share that special family bond. And I think his eyes teared up when my son pointed to everyone sitting around the table and proclaimed, "No amount of money in the world can buy this!"

With everyone at our table touching, cheering, arguing, debating and yelling all at the same time, we resembled the scene from "The Big Fat Greek Wedding." As I looked at my kids, I knew by the spark in their eyes and the smiles on their faces that they all understood what makes a family.  At that very moment, the man at the next table came over and asked with a wistful look on his face, "Tell me, what do I have to do to have this?"  

All the best,

p.s. What makes your family work?

+11
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Member Comments

    • +1 votes vote up vote up

      Jane Woods wrote Dec 3, 2009
    • Yana, a fabulous story. You cannot put a price on the riches you have. Fantastic.
      Sadly not all families are as great as yours, but I am lucky. I have a wonderful one and count my blessings every time my daughter rings, my son calls in and now his girlfriend and her family want to spend Christmas with us too! I often describe visiting my lovely family in Scotland like ‘walking into a hug‘. Lovely post!



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Jo46 wrote Dec 3, 2009
    • Yana,  It was well into adulthood that I truly believed families like yours exsisted(I’m too lazy to look up the spelling on this word).  For the longest time I could not and still have difficulty staying connnected with my own family. Meaning my brothers and sisters.I couldnot whyfamilies took vacations together and liked to hangout together.  Definitely family dynamics growing up can continue to contaminate the future.  It is hard to change things.  After awhile I just gave up and decided what is healthy for me is to have positive relationships.  I have a relationship with one sibling (out of six).  I wish things were different, but I am grateful for my husbands side of the family.  Thanks for sharing this wonderful family trip!  You are so lucky!  P.s.   my own parents have no relationship with any of their  children (7-kids) and definely not with their grandchildren (10-kids)



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Janet Wooley wrote Dec 3, 2009
    • Family is so very important. I cherish mine and thank God every day for each one of them. Thanks for sharing.



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Karyn Olson wrote Dec 3, 2009
    • Yes I have to agree...Yana you are truly blessed.

      I have not had much good experiences with family in the past and because of this I decided a long time ago (even before I had children) that I was going to change that...and I am glad I did...I am very close to my girls and grandson and am very happy with our relationship...we do a lot of family things together...like anyone else we have our issues and troubled times but when push comes to shove...we set all that aside and pull together with love and support...and that is the way it is suppose to be...I am very happy with my family...very happy.



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Pinkypoo wrote Dec 3, 2009
    • Thanks for sharing your story, Yana!! You are, indeed, very very blessed! I agree that God has a sense of humor and what a funny thing to happen that you would be sitting right next to your friend from HS. So great! You have a beautiful family!!

      I have not been as lucky, but I am so thankful for the blessings however small I have in my life. What makes a family is LOVE and FORGIVENESS. And sometimes having to forgive over and over and over and over again!  

      I can’t wait to meet you ladies! I won’t make it this month, but hope to catch you at the next Meetup!! :)



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Vikki Hall wrote Dec 3, 2009
    • I know it’s hard when you are a teen to miss out on those fun times with friends. But I always told my daughters that no matter what, when where or why FAMILY will always be there for you.
      I think it’s great that this man got to see a family have fun together!

      Vikki
      You can do anything!

      Come chat with us!
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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Linda Hendricks wrote Dec 3, 2009
    • Love this post!  Totally terrific and on the mark... my family is fractured... my parents make little effort and my brother isn’t speaking to me (I forgot why this time)... but Warren’s family all came and we too... were loud and rambunctious (don’t know if I spelled that right)... we had a great time... families can be tough and sometimes we can’t unfortunately make the bonds happen... but when they do... there’s nothing better!



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    • +1 votes vote up vote up

      Cynthia Schmidt wrote Dec 3, 2009
    • You look radiant in the center of that family photo, Yana! I like what you said about not being able to pick our family - so true! Very sad about your high school friend. At the end of the day, our family is our bloodline. It’s very sad when family members becomed estranged and conflicted.

      Blessings to you and yours this holiday season and always!



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    • +1 votes vote up vote up

      Angelcart wrote Dec 3, 2009
    • What a beautiful family you have.  You are truly blessed! happy



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    • +1 votes vote up vote up

      Becki Williams wrote Dec 3, 2009
    • Wonderful story.  Beautiful family, sounds like inside and out.  Thanks for sharing.



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    • +1 votes vote up vote up

      Marya1961 wrote Dec 3, 2009
    • Many blessings to you and your family, Yana...fantastic story. Our family is very fortunate, even though some of my extended family lives out of state, we are very close and talk frequently via phone, it’s a good thing.estatic



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    • +1 votes vote up vote up

      Zena Coleman wrote Dec 3, 2009
    • I love it, Family is important, how easy we can forget that sometimes. yours is beautiful, with such rich history and culture.



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    • +1 votes vote up vote up

      Lisa Wald Guarino wrote Dec 3, 2009
    • Wonderful post.  So true. Family is #1.

      Lisa G.



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    • +1 votes vote up vote up

      Meldw wrote Dec 3, 2009
    • Yana, you are so blessed. What a wonderful story, especially this time of year. We have one child, a daughter, but we live in the same town as all of my in-laws. Her cousins are like brothers and sisters to her, so she never feels lonely. My family lives all over the US, so when we get together it is always a great time. Thanks for a great story!



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    • +1 votes vote up vote up

      Encee wrote Dec 3, 2009
    • Being with those you love.
      Standing by each other no matter what.
      Caring about each other’s happiness.  

      That’s what makes a family in my book.  estatic



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Geralyn Schulkind wrote Dec 3, 2009
    • Love your mom and dad!  They look so young!  I strongly agree family is IMPORTANT...my license plates reflect that.  They say GDFMRE9  which translated means God first, Family 2nd and Work 3rd..
      Did everyone hear, it takes work though...and lots of love and forgiveness...just like any worthwhile relationship. Rewards are greater though as Yana (and my life) will attest. I am blessed with a loving family and we share Sundays together, because mom used to...this actually came at a perfect time since I was considering cancelling Sunday dinners till after the holidays. Well we had an argument on last Sunday, my son in law and I ... I was hurt...had to lick my wounds...am healing...THANKS YANA for sharing your wonderful life..I know it takes work! Visit me at
      www.paradisebeauty.myarbonne.com and you can see 2 of my daughters!



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Mztracy wrote Dec 3, 2009
    • I love it Yana!!

      For us, humor, love, fights, laughter, all rolled into one!



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Lynnie5963 wrote Dec 3, 2009
    • Wonderful post Yana!! Family is truly important and I try to stress that with my children.  My kids and grandkids are back home with me and thats fine.  They are family!!  

      Peace and love to you all!! And thank you for sharing this with us.  

      Lynette



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Katalin Goencz wrote Dec 3, 2009
    • That is a great story. Thank you for sharing with all of us.



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Kyah wrote Dec 3, 2009
    • True that, you can’t pick your family. Yes, family is good to have, and important to many, but if you don’t feel comfortable around them why bother to pretend to like them? My family comes together for funerals, and those are our reunions. Each time one of them drops off, we promise to get together for something other than funerals. Never happens. There have been actual reunions in other states and believe me, I would rather stay home and sleep. Such is life.

      Blood doesn’t always make family. I select friends for life, so my friends are my family, and this suits me just fine.



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Andrea Kuhman wrote Dec 3, 2009
    • I come from a family of 6 aunties and uncles with 13 cousins.  We all spent as many holidays together as possible.  

      My definition of family now includes; my children, their father and his new wife, my new husband, his children my grand children and any friend who happens to spend as much time with us as we do.

      We have the family that we didn’t chose, but chose to spend our time with anyway and the “family” that we have brought into our lives over the years.  

      It is always love that binds us.



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Darlene Sabella wrote Dec 3, 2009
    • I love this story Yana, I feel sad and always wanted to have this kind of family.  I cry when I watch a TV program where family is all together.  It is a scary world when you have no family left.  Oh, yes I have wonderful friends and a fantastic Son, but I would love to cook dinner every Sunday and invite the family over to have a wonderful time together.  You are lucky my friend, and you are loved.



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Minishoes1 wrote Dec 3, 2009
    • My family does get on my nerves sometimes and we get mad at each other,but we will really do love each other. Loved your story too!



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Yana Berlin wrote Dec 3, 2009
    • Thank you ladies. I do have to add that each and every family requires work and dedication to keep it together. We all have issues, disagreements, challenges, but at the end of the day blood is thicker than water.



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Lazylola wrote Dec 3, 2009
    • great story Yana, thank you for sharing estatic



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      UK Girl wrote Dec 4, 2009
    • Yana,
      A great story and yes coming from a large family can be a pain especially when you're a teenager and you seem to be missing out on fun but you're at another family get together - but now I'm older I really appreciate the fact I have this amazing, nutty Irish family that meddles and drives me nuts as I know when the road gets bumpy and not very pleasant they are there ......plus having only one child I know she loves the fact she has this huge extended family to fall back on.
      Your family is also very beautiful ...... look at your children all so handsome.



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Meldw wrote Dec 4, 2009
    • I forgot to put in my post that while your friend may not get along with his family, his friends may be his family. I agree with LazyLola that sometimes “friends are relatives you make for yourself.”



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Paris Mano wrote Dec 4, 2009
    • Thanks Yana for such a beautiful sharing. You have a gorgeous family!
      Have to agree with Pinkypoo...Love and forgiveness is the key. When my brother passed away, I was searching through the Bible for some passages to read at his funeral and I noticed that the central theme throughout the Bible is LOVE AND FORGIVENESS...Oh if we only could remember this and accept others for who they are not what we would like them to be. Thanks again for sharing.



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Anne Lyken-Garner wrote Dec 4, 2009
    • I loved every minute of it. Incidentally, I just made contact with a friend (on Facebook) who I hadn’t seen in 21 years. She just informed me that her brothers and her are now estranged. That really surprised me because they were always such a  close-knit family.
      Yana, I hope that my family is as close as yours when the kids are all grown. We teach them the right way, so hopefully they will understand the meaning of family when they grow older.



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Yana Berlin wrote Dec 4, 2009
    • @Anne, I’m sure your kids will grow up to be close if those are the values you instill in them.

      I wrote a blog on sibling bonds some time ago, I’ll have to look it up and re run it again.

      Thanks to all of you for compliments on my family. Event though sometimes all of them drive me completely bonkers, I love them dearly and would do anything for them.



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Frannie1964 wrote Dec 5, 2009
    • What a wonderful story Yana, thank you for sharing that with us. Family Is very Important and I cherish my Family so much.



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Susan Haley wrote Dec 5, 2009
    • Hi Yana

      I’ve always been incredulous at the close knit togetherness of family in different cultures. It’s rare in America as some of the responses here attest. Usually when I have encountered families with this type of rapport, they tended to be more rural and in the south where large families were more the norm.

      I raised my kids next door to a family from Italy and it was all for one and one for all in that group. I used to be so envious. I came from a small family where children were seen as a responsibility that you prepared for the adult world then threw them out there to sink or swim. There’s 13 years between me and my only sibling, hence our kids even were raised in a different generation. I was extremely close to my grandmother who was from England and had more the old world mentality. Here, it seems kids were reared to stand on their own two feet, do or die. It was shameful to my parents to have more than two children as more would hold you back from achieving worldly success. The good old American way, your worth as a human is based on your worth at the bank.
      Unfortunately, my husband I didn’t fit in the prescribed mold so we were kind of ostracized. I lost him fairly young and have struggled ever since, because I made ‘my own bed‘.

      Now, I hold dear my sister and my children. My dear grandparents have all passed on and so has my father who did work so hard to achieve after the depression and the war. Maybe that’s what drove them. I don’t know. Now my mother hoards her money and leads a lonely life. I think I ended up being the fortunate one after all. :)

      What I so admire about you, is you’ve kept your values and never allowed yourself to become “Americanized“. Your true blessings are yet to come when you are the great-grandma that the kids skip parties to celebrate. What goes around comes around. :)



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Buckeyebren wrote Dec 5, 2009
    • Oh Yana,

      How the tears flowed when I read your words. I learned what a family is SUPPOSED to be, however not from those I share blood with. Things were pretty much just the opposite for me. I was born into a large family and one which was abusive in all ways.  

      It was not until I was in junior high school that I realized that not all families. My best girlfriend was the daughter of the local rabbi and my mother made the mistake, I guess I can say now, of letting me spend much time with the family. I realized what a loving, caring family was like, and it was NOT mine in any way.

      I, with the encouragement of my friend and her parents, went to the school officials and told them of the abuse, but no one believed a child over a parent back in the 70’s and since none of my siblings were complaining, it must not be happening...but it was.  

      So at 15, I ran away. Far away. I kept going in the dead of winter until I was too cold and too hungry to keep going. I was found along a stretch of highway by a state policeman nearly dead just trying to get as far away from my “family” as I could.

      I can still remember those 2 days as if they were yesterday. I was treated as if I were a criminal. Locked up in a detention center until I could be returned to my “family“. I was shipped right back to my family even though I told the police what was going on.  

      The day I was returned to my family I decided that if I had to live with them, I would rather be dead. So I would either get out, or kill myself. I got out, disappeared for about 7 months with the Rabbi’s help... and at 16 was emancipated so my “family” could not force me to come back to live with them. Well, that was long ago and another time.

      When my husband introduced me to his family, little did I realize that they would teach me exactly what the meaning of family is. They have shown me more love in these past 12 years than I had gotten all my life.

      So, to all those with a family...hold them tightly. IF you have someone you have not talked to in years, call them or send them a letter. Don’t wait until it is too late!!  

      After not seeing my father for all those years, I got a call from my oldest brother telling me dad was calling for me. Yes, it was because he was losing his battle with kidney failure. I went to him, and sat there holding his hand while he talked, and then took his last breaths. I looked out the window at the fresh new snow and was very glad I had been there with him. It was Christmas morning and that year my gift was learning forgiveness.



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Pharmagirl wrote Dec 7, 2009
    • Yana

      Like yours, my family is very close (though much smaller). We laugh, we eat, we fight, we share. And we are always there for one another.  

      I never forget how lucky I am and it’s wonderful to see that you are too.

      Sharmani
      http://www.pharmacymix.com



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Deprogrammed wrote Dec 9, 2009
    • Every year for the holidays, whether Thanksgiving or Christmas, I end up cooking for 50 or more people because family is coming, and they bring extended family.  I’m one of seven, plus our kids, and their kids, and friends who have been around longer than some of the blood relatives.  Nothing makes me happier.  I’ll be doing it until I drop.  Merry Christmas to everyone!



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Mariana Calderon-Thornton wrote Dec 19, 2009
    • HI Beautyful story, I happily belong to a great family, we get togheter as much as we can because we live in different states and even different countries, so at least every year we have a big family reunion, and we share time, we get to know new members some time, so Congratulations to all that can keep families and traditions
      Mariana



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Missangela wrote Dec 22, 2009
    • @Yana I appreciate that you have a large, wonderful, close family. However, I disagree with a couple of your statements...

      We can choose our family. Obviously not our biological DNA donors, but we can choose extended family. My mom died when I was two years old. And thank goodness I had other people in my life who were willing to guide me and share their lives with me.

      There are plenty of foster children and adoptive children in need of people with the mentality that we most certainly can choose family. Just because the biological family may be broken, doesn’t mean one can have no family.

      Also... this statement sounds a little judgmental and exclusionist: “Like it or not, my family would be in his face all evening.”

      How about a more loving approach with, “Hey would you like to put tables together and we can all enjoy a dinner together?”

      Just another perspective.

      Happy Holidays!

      ~ Angela



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Dana Cappelletti wrote Mar 18, 2010
    • estatic  What a wonderful experience and a great example to set for all the children in the family.
      congratulations



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