I met my niece Ella today.
My dad is moving to Kansas in two weeks, so we had lunch at Ben and Katie's, I suppose as a re-introduction between his children before he goes away.
The baby had enormous cheeks. I said she was cute and Ben said, "Well, sure, she has our blood!" It was jarring, not so much that Ben and I are related, but to hear something that implies it's significant. I don't consider it meaningless; I just never considered it at all: that being related could have implications, that his children could look like me somehow, or that we share something based on family lines.
I went shopping with Caitie on Thursday. We don't look anything alike (in the face, at least). I've always considered her entirely my sister, but being family was about shared experience, not blood. Maybe our values or mannerisms or sense of humor, things I think we share most, were passed on genetically. These have value to me, and knowing that she's the only person who knows my childhood in detail, understands what it was like to grow up with my mom, her father on weekends, our stepdad. This knowledge that we'll carry certain profound impressions through our lives is what makes us sisters; that we're half related has little more significance to me than the idea that we're half un-related.
Rod and I had dinner with Ben and Katie once a couple years ago, and I went to their wedding a year or two before that. I saw Ben occasionally when we were kids, but I was maybe 5 at the oldest and my idea of family was pretty much shot -- or revised to include only a mom and baby sister. Comprehending that this older kid was somehow my brother didn't compute, and I never felt inclined to consider it.
If I had considered it more recently, I would have realized that regardless of my ambivalence toward knowing my dad, I would like to know Ben and Katie, and now Ella. Katie is a teacher, earned her masters at the UW. She maybe studied art history. Ben cooks, apparently, braises lamb shanks. They have a great house about two blocks from my Ravenna apartment, and judging from the decor they have good taste. I want to meet more babies; they have a baby. Presumably, I could try to get to know them now, but we've lived nearly within walking distance for years, so it's a bit odd to think of it today. And there are probably hundreds of Seattle couples with backgrounds and interests compatible with mine and Brian's, but apparently being family means a shortcut to friendship - you don't have to get lucky meeting someone at work, you can assume connections based on blood, then learn about them later.
So If I had considered it, I might have made some effort to know them. The implications of that, though, are barely fathomable. Would we actually have spent time together? Would I have known my dad better, seen some better side of him that made me like him more? Would the idea of having a brother mean something different to me (mean something to me)? It might have changed my concept of myself within some tenuous family structure, or might not have changed anything. Introductions are usually meant to resolve some mystery (Oh, you're the one. Now I see why everyone likes him so much. I didn't realize she'd be so tall.), but today was just questions.