For a while, I worried that with Julia's grandparents living so far away and her father—that would be Johannes, my boyfriend of the past 6,000 years—working in Europe for long stretches, Julia's world would be pitifully small, but then along came Dina with her arroz con pollo, and Lidra with her Kosovar lullabies, and everyone's life took a major turn for the better.
They say you can't pick your family, but Jules and I would beg to differ. I spent a lot of time picking caregivers who would cherish and respect my little girl, and, as a result, my little girl fell head over heels for both of them. To be honest, I was afraid she preferred them, that because I'm at the office all day, she wouldn't understand I was the one who pulled her through the croup of 2004, the one who managed to come up with last-minute Dora the Explorer at Radio City Music Hall tickets, the one who taught her to quit putting grapes in her ear. It turns out I needn't have been concerned. She gets it. Kids have a way of figuring this stuff out. They have a primal understanding of who their mother is—but what about the aunts and uncles, the cousins, the brothers and sisters, the people who give you a place in the world...and occasionally drop a gummy worm down the back of your T-shirt just for good measure?
My aunt Mollie was my grandmother's youngest sister. Perhaps Mollie and her five siblings were a touch sensitive, but after being on the receiving end of several rather unpleasant pogroms, they began feeling somewhat less than welcome in Russia. So in 1919, with nothing but the clothes on their back, they made their way to Detroit, where my aunt Mollie met and married my uncle Clyde, a good solid soul from (I'm not kidding) Tightfit, Tennessee, and gradually became the family matriarch...which is to say she had a swimming pool in the yard and filled it with cousins every summer. My tante Annie would show up with homemade elderberry wine, though my uncle Izzie preferred to lounge poolside with a tall glass of pickle brine as my brother and cousins and I looked on in horror. My uncle Sam quoted Shakespeare, and my aunt Minnie did needlework. Everybody argued in Yiddish and laughed and snuck table scraps to the dogs hanging out under the picnic table. I loved those days and I loved those people, but they're all gone now, and Sunday afternoons are for doing laundry. Julia never did have the pleasure of their company.
Still, I know that in years to come, my daughter will remember eating Albanian cabbage pie with Lidra's parents (whom she calls Mrs. Mommy & Mr. Daddy) and summer evenings at the Botanical Garden with Lidra and her sister and brothers. Jules will look back at her trip to Sesame Place with Dina and her husband and two sons, and she'll realize that—just like her mother—she comes from a great big, slightly offbeat, seriously funny family who would literally do anything for her.