SURVIVING LIFE IN A BIG FAMILY

Part of me wanted to avoid writing this post. Part of me knew that I couldn’t. If you know me you know that I’m from a big family. It’s not something I keep hidden from the world. I actually talk about it a lot more than I should.

“Ohh yeah I know ALL about sibling troubles. I’m one of eight.”

“Yeah. I’ve never had my own bedroom. I’m one of eight.”

“Trust me. I know how it feels to be left out. I’m one of EIGHT.”

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You can see where I’m going with this. So when I was asked to write a piece about my life growing up in a big family I immediately said, “YES OF COURSE! I LOVE MY FAMILY. IT’S SO BIG. EVERYONE SHOULD KNOW ALL ABOUT IT.” And then I sat down to write it….and nothing came to mind. Reeeeeaaaallll cool, Cecilia, you can’t think of anything to say about growing up in a big family? Not one single thing?! Get to work.

My senior year of college I took a class called Scripting and Performing. It was an amazing experience and I wouldn’t trade it for the world but it was in that class that I began questioning everything I knew about myself and my identity. My professor looked at me during one class period and asked, “Cecilia, who are you outside of your family?” I laughed and opened my mouth to respond and nothing came to mind. Who was I outside of my family? I had no idea. My family was (and in some ways still is) my identity. Are they my entire identity? No. But they have shaped so much of my life. Is that bad? Maybe. Do I mind it? Definitely not.

Growing up in a large family is no easy task. And by no easy task I mean it breaks you down but at the same time builds you up. It makes you cry both from joy and sadness. You never sleep because not a single one of you is on the same schedule. You lose your voice at least once a month because conversations turn into small arguments that turn into big arguments that turn into a contest to see who can yell the loudest even though you know your dad is going to win that competition. You never know where anything is because your siblings are always moving all of your stuff. Somehow your siblings are all knowing and as soon as you are about to walk out the door they appear to let you know that you need to change your socks because the ones you have on are theirs. Your memory is naturally AMAZING (ask me how many birthdays and phone numbers I have memorized, I’ve considered putting it under special skills on my resume). You’re always hungry because no one can agree on the same thing for dinner but at the same time there is somebody ALWAYS cooking something in the kitchen and even though someone is always cooking you can’t eat what they’re making because if you wanted it you should have made it yourself.

Basically, growing up in a big family means you are always in survival mode.

Here is what I have learned from growing up with a lot of siblings:

My life will never be boring. Ever. It’s impossible.

There is always something going on, always someone home to talk too, always an argument to be won, laundry to be done, movies that your siblings insist you HAVE to watch, basketball games you have to go to, school plays you try to stay awake through, wrestling matches that need to be attended, nephews that need to be watched, music that needs to be listened to, homework that needs to your help, etc. I have 7 siblings that all have things going on in their lives that I want to be present for. I am never bored. I wish I knew what bored felt like.

It takes a LOT for me to become distracted.

I grew up in a house where there were 100 things going on at once all of the time. This is not an exaggeration. Mom would be cooking, dad would be mowing the lawn, Grace would be attempting to help my mom while Jerome would be begging her for some money. Richard would attempt to help dad but he’d get bored every five minutes and run inside to see if someone wanted to do something with him but Mary couldn’t do anything because she was working on a puzzle and Ruth couldn’t because she was painting my nails and listening to music at a volume that was louder than all of us put together. So Richard would decide to play video games with Tony who was yelling at Teresa because she wanted to play too but she wasn’t very good at playing so she cried. Mom would yell at the boys to let Teresa join in, they would yell back. Grace would start yelling because somehow she has deemed herself the second mom because she’s the oldest. Jerome would get upset that everyone was talking while he was trying to tell my mom why he needed $20. Mary would yell from the other room that she was missing a puzzle piece and someone needed to help her find it. My dad would hear the commotion and come inside. He’d turn the video games off, yell at Ruth to turn the music off, and proceed to make everyone go outside and help him finish up the yard work which we would do but we’d complain the entire time we did it making the work last roughly two hours longer than it needed too because we’d find an excuse to sneak inside every 15 minutes but we had to get it done or we wouldn’t be going to our soccer games later that day. And this was just a typical Saturday for us. So when I’m doing anything and it feels like there are a million things going on to everyone else, I am usually pretty calm. Chaos is not foreign to me. Sometimes I do my best work when there are a million things happening at once. It feels familiar. It feels like home.

I have the biggest support system in the entire world.

I know that my parents and my siblings support me in all of my endeavors and because I chose to go into the entertainment industry the more support I can get the better. I have 10 people backing me up no matter what happens and the comfort that brings me is irreplaceable.

I suffer from what I like to call “sibling guilt”.

This is something that I fear will never go away. I am the only one of my siblings who has moved away from home so every time I go back to visit I have 10 people who are begging for my attention. To them it feels like I am constantly running around spending time with everyone else but them. To me, it feels like I have 800 people all asking me when they get to spend time alone with me. And no one is ever happy with how much alone time I give them. It always feels like someone else is getting more. I have never been able to sit on the couch in my parent’s living room for more than 20 minutes at a time since I’ve moved out. I have to magically make time to be with my parents, my sister and brother-in-law and my nephews, my brother and his wife, my brother and his girlfriend, my sister, my sister, my brother, my sister, my husband’s parents, my husband’s sister, my high school friends, my college friends, my grandparents, my cousins, my husband’s best friend who wants us to meet his new girlfriend, etc. It never ends. Ever. I leave home every single time crying because of the guilt I feel. Who did I leave out this time? Who feels like they didn’t get enough of me? What did I forget to ask her when I was with her? What extra curricular activity was I not able to make? You get my point.

I have tough skin.

I grew up with my siblings picking at everything little thing I did, so I am not easily shaken by what the outside world thinks of me. This is important. Does it make me and my siblings sound like horrible people who just spent all of our time bullying each other? A little bit but I wouldn’t trade my tough skin for anything (except maybe a million dollars but, like, I got a degree in acting so…).

I cry more than the average human.

I don’t know if this has anything to do with being part of a big family but part of me feels like it does. I have always been a very emotional personal. That is no secret to people who know me. I feel so easily for people, even if I do not know you. If you are experiencing something that causes you pain, I am crying for you. If you are experiencing something that causes you overwhelming joy, I am crying for you. If you are head over heels in love with someone, I am crying for you. And I do that whether I know you or not. So you can image how much I cry for people that I do know and know well. I feel like I cry every single day because of something someone in my family has done or experienced. All the time – tears coming from this girl. Don’t believe me? One time, in that same Scripting and Performing class, we were asked to write about our fathers and then share what we had written. Everyone shared stories about their dad, some were hard to listen to and others were just “he’s a pretty great guy, I guess. I owe a lot to him.” When it came to my turn I couldn’t even see my page to read what I had written. Just thinking about my dad brings tears to my eyes. He’s the best. I will never be able to put into words how much he and my mom mean to me. I will just keep crying when I think about trying to do that.

I learned from a very young age to work hard for what I want.

This is the most important thing my family has taught me. Not a day goes by that I don’t thank my family for giving me this “tool” in my toolbox. My parents told all of us from a very young age that in order to get what we wanted in life we were going to have to work harder than anyone else in the room. We had to prove ourselves worthy of what we wanted. Back then, we took it quite literally and “anyone else in the room” meant each other. We were always competing with each other to be the best and that hasn’t changed at all. My siblings push me to be the best version of myself that I can be. I work hard because I want to prove to them that I can do anything I put my mind too. I am not the most intelligent person I know. I’m not even the most talented person I know, but I will prove to anyone that I can work just as hard, if not harder, than anyone else I will ever meet.

My parents are my heroes. My siblings are my everything. And I could never imagine a life outside of my crazy, big ass family.

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