It's that time of year again: Christmas. Where everyone surrounds themselves with their loved ones to eat far too much, watch rubbish (but secretly great) telly, and fall asleep having expressed love through commercial items. The dream.
I have to admit, my cynicism perhaps comes from the fact that Christmas in the Pickard household has been pretty miserable for the past five years. The gaping hole my dad left when he died is always most notable around the holidays, and with my Pops joining him earlier this year, it didn't look like things would improve at all for the Christmas cheer of 2016.
At the very least, though, I have the rest of the family, who I am privileged to be surrounded by: my step-mum, brother, granny, uncle, auntie and two cousins always pull together in the end. I'm also very lucky that my fabulous mum - my twin in just about every way - is having me and my brother over to her home in Australia for Christmas this year. Perhaps, for the first time in as long as I can remember, the holidays won't be an emotional mess.
Reading a poem at mum and Gareth's wedding.
Fundamentally, this time of year really gets me thinking about my family; and boy is mine complex. My parents split when I was 10, and not long after I gained step-parents in the form of Jane, my dad's partner, and Gareth, who was with my mum. When Jane entered mine and my brother's lives, we were also accepted into her side of the family: I got another uncle, my Uncle David, and another set of grandparents. Gareth, being older, no longer had his parents around, but I have no doubt that if I had ever met them I would have been similarly adopted as a grandchild, as I have been taken on by all the rest of my extra relatives. Through Gareth, I even gained an older step-brother and -sister (something I had much longed for), adding even more people to this wonderful mix of those I consider family.
When my dad died, Jane didn't waver in her never ending love and support of me and my brother. Even now, with a new partner and baby on the way, Jane is a parent to me - her and Rob are, if anything, just a second set of guardians to me now, and their baby will be my sister, no matter what genetics may say.
It is intrinsically more complex than just who shares the same genetic pool as you. It is who supports you, who guides you, and who is with you through thick and thin
I think it is flawed that we base family merely on who we share blood with. I, for example, have a whole half of a family that do not speak to me: have never welcomed me, or opened themselves to me for love and support, even when my mum moved to Australia. Whereas the people that aren't genetically related to me - Gareth, Rob, Jane, her parents, and so on - have only ever offered me enduring backing, and have fought my corner for years now.
I can't number the hurtful gestures or comments people have made over the lack of 'blood' I share with certain members of my family: from being left off cards, to intentionally not invited to family events, it seems people can't grasp that family is so much more than genetics. I adore my step-sister and her newborn son, my nephew, as much as I would if they were directly related to me; so too, are my step-grandparents as loving and supportive as my own; Gareth and Jane were just as important to who I have become as my mum and dad themselves were, and I love and respect them as parents, because that's what they are.
Me, my step-mum and brother chilling with Lady Liberty.
In many respects, I'm so privileged to have had four parents in my teenage years: it just meant I had extra guidance when I needed it most. Whilst I'm sure - like many others in complex situations may well think - things would be a lot easier if it was merely my mum, dad, brother and me, I wouldn't have life any other way now.
Family is, simply, so much more than blood. It is intrinsically more complex than just who shares the same genetic pool as you. It is who supports you, who guides you, and who is with you through thick and thin. Whilst I didn't necessarily choose the people that are now my relatives - life just handed me them along the way - family is what you make of it, however mad and messy it may be. Who can say that they have not just one family, but more like 2.5's worth, to love and support them? At the end of the day, despite it all, I am so lucky.