Lesson #49: My Family Tree

by Rachel on November 10, 2010

With Thanksgiving approaching, everyone is thinking a lot about family. Sigh.

I love my family sososo much but I’m not gonna lie — I’m really looking forward to giving someone else’s family a try this year.

Someday (when you’re older?) I’ll tell you more laughing-on-the-outside-crying-on-the-inside stories about my family. Sometimes I tell them to Eric and I don’t think he believes me. The Christmas with Alzheimer’s great-grandma and the “they don’t have anywhere else to go!” people my uncle brought home from the group home where he worked? Legendary.

But before I can share gems like that one, I have to explain my family’s structure.

How we’re all related is very confusing to most people. I mean, you don’t even need to know and I’ll bet you’re confused. “She has this little brother…? But I secretly think he’s her illegitimate child…? And there are no father figures present…?”

Yeah. I know. It’s very confusing. There are so many last names involved, I think the mailman thinks we’re actually a law firm.

So…I made a family tree to make it a little easier!

[FYI — This is just my mom’s half of the family. If I were to make it a true family tree with my dad’s side too, everyone’s heads would explode. I’m trying to ease you into this. Also, I used different colors to denote race.]

OK — you ready? Let me talk you through it!

Back in the day, my grandma and grandpa were married. This is my grandma.

They had three kids: Michael, James, and Andrea. Andrea is my mom.

When my mom was 10, my grandparents got divorced. My grandma went back to school and became a nurse (with a perfect 4.0 GPA because my grandma is awesome like that).

When my mom was 18, my grandma got knocked up by Dave, whom she wasn’t married to. I don’t know all the details on this, but I’ve started to figure out that I maybe come from a long line of promiscuous women. Anyway, so my grandma had her last child, Kara, when her other kids were much older. My grandma and Dave never got married and never lived together.

Not too long after this, my mom met my dad.

And shortly thereafter, I came along!

My birth made Kara an aunt; she’s only three-and-half-years older than I am, but she’s still my aunt.

OK — still with me?

So, I was born in Chicago and lived there until I was five, when my mom took me and moved to Grand Blanc, Michigan. We moved in with my grandma because — long story short — my dad wasn’t a very good father and my mom wanted me to have a better life. So I lived with my mom and my grandma — and Kara, who was young at the time, but was still my aunt. This is, by far, the most confusing thing to everyone. Seriously, even my best friends still call Kara my cousin sometimes because we are so close in age. When we were in grade school, people called us sisters, even though Kara had the coloring of a marshmallow and I was more like burnt toast. I’d constantly have to explain, No, she’s my aunt. Even though we are close in age, we’re not sisters or cousins.

In general, when I refer to my family, I’m talking about this unit of four women who lived in that house for most of my life.

My two uncles, Michael and James, are another story for another day. I wish I could get into it now, but certain topics deserve their own posts. A gay trucker who lives in a house with a Buddhist-inspired decor that also happens to feature a ton of Confederate flags? A man who “loaned” his car to a total stranger and was surprised when it didn’t come back…the same man who took out a personal loan to buy teeth for a crackhead hooker and then lost his job shortly thereafter for failing a drug test due to pot?

(Kids…don’t do drugs!)

Anyway.  Kara got married to a guy named Mike a few years ago, so he’s my uncle, even though he feels more like a brother-in-law. And their kids, Colin and Ella, are my cousins.

My grandpa got remarried when I was young, so I have a step-grandma, and aunts and cousins through her…again, I’m just trying to keep it simple here, so I left them off the tree too. But they are still a part of my life and I see them on holidays!

Oh, but then there’s one more bastard child in the mix (because Kara and I weren’t enough!) — my brother Preston!

My mom had always wanted to have another baby, but she didn’t get remarried after my dad died and then she put herself through school, so it took her a while to be financially ready. When I was 18, she started seriously considering going to a sperm donor. I had just moved out and was like, “Eh…do what you want.” And so was everyone else, because that’s how my family is. So she did! So she went to a sperm bank and we picked out a baby daddy from a catalog (which I’ve talked about in my comedy routine before) and then Preston came along!

So Preston is my little brother. (My little brother who is a clone of my mom — like, it’s disturbing how much they look alike. But then again, sometimes I see my reflection in a window and think, “What is my mom doing here?” Her genes are…impressive.)

Anyway, despite the age difference between us, Preston and I interact exactly like siblings do. I don’t have any maternal instinct when I look at him. My instinct is to annoy him.

To handle all these unconventional family ties, I’ve had to develop a sense of of humor.

This past spring, one day Preston was just being a total brat. Like, throwing a tantrum and carrying on and my mom was yelling at him and it was just DRAMZ. My grandma was in the living room and I was nearby in the bathroom doing my make-up. As the tantrum continued, I said out loud — without realizing I was saying it out loud — “You just had to have another baby…”

Immediately, I heard my grandma start cracking up in the living room. I realized that I had spoken out loud and even though my mom was not totally pleased by my comment, my grandma and I were kind of howling with laughter — that’ll happen when you accidentally say the same thing someone else is thinking — and my mom couldn’t help but chuckle…and then roll her eyes and get back to threatening time-outs and what not.

OH! One more thing, and this is important: Preston has never referred to me by my real name. When he first started talking, he started calling me “Zsa Zsa.” My mom and grandma swear they don’t know why, even though I’ve told them a million times why. One day, when he was a baby, Preston was sitting on the floor in front of the bathroom door while I blow dried my hair. He was watching me and then he started waving his hand over his head and saying “Zsa Zsa.” To him, it was the sound the blow dryer made. Over the next few weeks, every time I entered the room, he’d make that noise and do the motion. At some point, he just started referring to me as Zsa Zsa, which then got abbreviated when he was about three years old to just “Zsas.” (I’m laughing as I write this because my other family members call me that too. I’m pretty sure if this had happened when I was younger, I would have never been referred to by my real name…I would have been the “Beezus” of my family. Even Eric calls me “Zsas” when he’s trying to get my attention.)

Earlier this year, my mom came home with Preston and there was a box on the front porch. My mom told Preston it was for Rachel and he said in all seriousness, “Who’s Rachel?”

So that’s my family, and really, making this family tree was sort of fun because I’m at a point now where I’m just sort of over it. Growing up, it was really hard not having a nuclear family. I went to a 99.5 percent white Catholic school. Kids weren’t mean, they just didn’t understand. They wanted to know where my dad was, asked me if I was adopted, couldn’t understand how my grandma could be so young and feisty, thought Kara was my sister, and just generally didn’t get it.

Oh wait…people still don’t get it! People who have known me my whole life still don’t know who is who…but you know what? I don’t care. My life is a really good mix of totally unconventional crazy and total suburban white girl upbringing, which has made me exactly who I am today.

That doesn’t mean holidays aren’t filed under “F” for “Fuck, Cluster.” But I’m pretty sure that happens in nuclear families too.

{ 39 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Beth November 10, 2010 at 9:50 am

This was simply DELIGHTFUL to read because I know every single one of those people and have the most love for them that I could without being blood related. Everyone out there, it really is as fabulous as it sounds! (You didn’t mention Tag or Lola, though!) That family TREE is hysTERical. SHUT UP with your color coding! AHAHAH. Seriously, Rach, EXCELLENT post! This is definitely one of my favorites. You iz on a roll this week. xoxoxo LYLAS/Aunt/Cousin/Kristy/OOCBFF ;)


2 Lisa @ I'm an Okie November 10, 2010 at 9:52 am

oh my lord! And I thought I had a crazy unique family! You take the cake! I love it.

I have two much older half brothers and we all have different mothers–my dad was the promiscuous one! BUT, all of the mothers including mine got along and we’d have Thanksgiving together, etc! It was a great way to grow up.


3 Amy November 10, 2010 at 9:54 am

Love this! I really enjoy hearing about the inner workings of other’s family trees. Mine is pretty nuclear so I find non-nuclear families really interesting, if that makes sense (I hope it was not offensive to say that–I just really find family dynamics and family trees to be a fascinating topic). ALSO, I just had to comment because I have a friend who is a real-life Beezus!! It happened in a similar way you described with Preston: her little sister couldn’t say Michelle (her real name) so she started saying Bichelle, which got shortened to B, which got elongated (? yeah, don’t ask me how!) to Beezus. And now we don’t call her anything else! :)


4 Anna November 10, 2010 at 9:59 am

I love this! What a great post. Family is so special, no matter how convoluted and occasionally irritating they may be. Holidays in my house can get a little weird too, but for somewhat different reasons… if only we weren’t uber-WASPs and could just get nice and drunk at holidays, then things might be a little more relaxed. Did I just complain about being a WASP? WHITE WHINE.


5 G November 10, 2010 at 10:01 am

“My instinct is to annoy him.” I’m pretty sure this is in the older sister handbook!! (I’m an older sister too!)

You can feel the love for your family throughout this entire post; it’s really beautiful! I love it when people explain their family trees as they are so fascinating! Every family has some complicated things in it – I discovered in mine that a few generations back, two individuals with the same last name were married… I truly want to be able to go back in time and sit them down: “Seriously guys, out of all the people in this world, you couldn’t find somebody who wasn’t a third/fourth cousin?? Come on…” Guess times were quite different back then…


6 Alina @ Duty Free Foodie November 10, 2010 at 10:02 am

That was hilarious! And touching. Your family actually seems pretty awesome – on top of giving you brilliant comedy material.


7 whit November 10, 2010 at 10:07 am

I can’t decide if your family is more confusing than mine or not. I’m so confused.


8 Jessica November 10, 2010 at 10:08 am

SO, I come from one of those super “perfect,” suburban, white, hyper-successful, protestant families, and my family is pretty awesome — we’re very close — and we certainly have our issues too, but you know, there is a lot of pressure to be a certain way, act a certain way… be conventional and successful and “perfect.” And while your upbringing and family were non-traditional and I’m sure that as a kid that was hard, I think that — as an adult — that must be AWESOME if for no other reason than it gives you the freedom to kind of do and say and think and be whatever you want, without worrying about fitting into anybody’s preconceived notions or expectations of what life “should” be like. In fact, I often read your blog and think “whoa, does her mom read this?!” because I could never cook naked and post pictures or talk about sex or whatever with my parents. But now I totally get why you can — because your family is awesomely non-judgmental. And I think that rocks!


9 Rachel's Mom November 10, 2010 at 11:07 pm

I do read her blog, and was cracking up as I read this tonight because it’s all so true….and well, just pretty damn funny.


10 Sarah November 10, 2010 at 10:09 am

totally happens in nuclear families…if you are born Jewish it is even more of a clusterfuck because along with all the holiday food, there is a steaming hot side dish of guilt…and we don’t have such totally cute grandmas! She was quite the looker!


11 Leah @ L4L November 10, 2010 at 10:20 am

Your family tree is almost as impressive as mine. ;)


12 Lori November 10, 2010 at 10:57 am

LOVE this post! Reminds me of my own, in many ways. Here’s to family!


13 Matt November 10, 2010 at 11:00 am

That doesn’t mean holidays aren’t filed under “F” for “Fuck, Cluster.” But I’m pretty sure that happens in nuclear families too.



14 Lisa November 10, 2010 at 11:20 am

Love this! My family is pretty all over the place too. I have a sister who is 14 and I’m 33 (half sisters) and have two sisters who are 1 month apart but not related (mom and stepmom preggo at the same time when I was 16 – it was great to have my friends make fun of me for my parents getting it on and getting knocked up at the same time!). We are a mix of cultures as well – Jewish, Greek, Irish Catholic, Puerto Rican, and Indian. I think it makes for a great holiday with sometimes terrible “authentic” food!

Also, I teach in the inner city and there are many kids in my 5th grade class who are aunts to 1st graders. Legitimate ones.

Here’s to the holidays – and why liquor stores are packed!


15 Manon November 10, 2010 at 11:40 am

Love this……..and I’m so jealous. My family that I actually have contact with consists of me, my brother (and his awesome gf), my mom and dad. Don’t get me wrong, we are plenty entertaining by ourselves (I’m a mini me of my dad, so you can IMAGINE how ridic he is)…..but I’m always so jealous of people who have these big families! AND yeah…….your mom’s genes are IMPRESSIVE! AND……..totally snorted at “Who’s Rachel?” hahahaha Great post!


16 Alexa @ The Girl In Chucks November 10, 2010 at 12:04 pm

I love you so much for having the phrase “baby daddy” in your family tree. Seriously.

My tree is not quite as complicated…but my sister is 12 years older than me and much to her chagrin, all while growing up, people thought she was my mother. Oops.

Little did they know, that much like you and your brother Preston, we were always siblings. Like seriously, she was 14 and I was 2 and we literally had arguments like I was a person over 3 feet tall whose opinion actually mattered. Yay. <3


17 Laura Georgina November 10, 2010 at 12:45 pm

Reading this made me grin from ear to ear. Never mind which way the lines go, your family is kooky and loveable and unique, and that’s never a bad thing (oh wait, except at family holidays….)

If it makes you feel any better, my grandpa remarried (twice!) and his now-wife is the same age as my mom (though she somehow looks and acts older than he does–at least it wasn’t a “she’s a looker!” thing); they had a son, so I now have a twenty-year-old uncle. And my parents had my youngest sister when I was 12, which led to REALLY dirty looks if I ever took her anywhere because people just thought she was my daughter… Oh yeah, and my mom will never tell strangers we’re mother and daughter because she doesn’t want people guessing our ages (for real)–though put us side by side and, though we look NOTHING alike, our bodies (well, booties) are exactly the same.

BUT yours still takes the crazy cake!


18 Kendra November 10, 2010 at 2:07 pm

Posts like this make me so happy. My sister and I used to say that we could write our family history and turn it into a soap opera without any exaggeration or elaboration. It just is that crazy. I mean, we’re both affair babies in the first place so that HAS to tell you something.

I have an aunt who is younger than me so I get that strangeness. My step-grandmother decided to foster and adopt a gaggle of very troubled kids over the years so every few years I would meet my new aunt or uncle.


19 Erica November 10, 2010 at 2:16 pm

It is too funny that you color coded yourself and your dad. Awesome.

Also, I am hard pressed to find people who are way older than their siblings (i’m 14 years older than one of my brothers) so kudos to your mom for having a second baby!
And yes, I do annoy my brother, just like he annoyed me when people used to ask when I was 16 if the two year old was my baby.
No, no he is not.


20 Jessica November 10, 2010 at 2:52 pm

Its like a commuity of weird families in the comments section! I LOVE IT! My family tree is SO weird… at one point I was having FOUR xmas’s a year!

Biological mom + dad = Me and Brother
Biological mom = CRAZY = divorce at age 8
Step mom + Dad = 2 step sisters & me and my brother
But WAIT! Step mom is still friends with exhusband, so exhusband comes to MY bday parties, graduations, etc.
Biologial mom + ExStep dad #1 = Half sister (13 years younger then me)
Biological mom + ExStep dad #2, #3, #4 = no extra kids! THANK GOD!
Biological Mom + Prison = me with a 16 year old sister and parental responsibility at 27, so I have a sister that is kind of like a daughter, but still my sister.

My family tree = fun times! :) and even MORE FUN to explain to my boyfriend and his family. And people WONDER why I want to elope if we get married!


21 Heather November 10, 2010 at 3:03 pm

The funny thing is, I know pretty much everyone you mentioned, but sometimes I still want to call Kara your cousin! I always thought your fam was way more interesting than my ‘mom-dad-sister-cat’ family, but thanks to my German-Irish (ah, the bonding powers of alcohol) heritage, our holidays are still very entertaining! Loved this post!


22 Katie November 10, 2010 at 3:53 pm

Someone earlier wrote how as a kid growing up with a crazy non-traditional family can be kind of tough but as an adult I love it SO much. There is never a dull moment and it makes for hilarious stories and a full house. My grandma and great-grandma had kids at the same time so my mom and her aunt are the same age.. so my mom’s cousins are younger than me. Hmm my aunts and uncles are pretty much all from different parents (grandma is on her 5th husband, I think). Get it gramma! My mom, dad, and stepdad grew up on the same street and my dad was bffs with my stepdad’s brother. I would say my family tree is more like those vines that creep all over old houses, criss-cross all over each other, and are a bitch to untangle. No boyfriend has totally figured it out yet when I try to explain and introduce him!


23 Madelyn November 12, 2010 at 11:12 am

haha, I knew I would see a comment from you, Katie. Yeah, this post definitely reminded me of our family with all the different baby daddys and the promiscuous grandma


24 Mina November 10, 2010 at 5:18 pm

This is my life on my mom’s side, but backwards (I’M the aunt, my niece is only 2 years younger than me), PLUS finding out that my grandfather wasn’t really my grandfather which means that my aunts and uncles aren’t my biological aunts and uncles but WAIT there’s more! my mother FINDING HIM and then subsequently finding out that my great great grandmother was Doris Duke, of the Duke tobacco family (you may know them by DUKE FUCKING UNIVERSITY) and then FINDING THAT WHOLE FAMILY about six years ago and OH did I mention that my real grandfather is Cherokee Indian so now I’m Native American…oh and then not knowing that my “grandmother” was actually my great aunt because my biological grandmother disowned me when I was born for infecting the family blood line because I was an ARAB (which was her word for ‘anybody from the middle east because they all want to kill us’) except that I’m ACTUALLY Iranian. Oh, and then you get in to the Iranian side of the family, which includes arranged marriages (back in the day, not anymore!) and an uncle who married a Turkish woman who was the child of Turkish refugees in Iran so there’s an entire in-law family in Turkey somewhere.

Did I mention that my Mom was 46 years old when I was born?

You have just inspired me to start a blog solely about my family tree.


25 Rachel November 10, 2010 at 5:20 pm

omg. I need a diagram. And please start that blog…I want to know more.

Are you a tobacco heiress or trying to kills us?


26 Teri [a foodie stays fit] November 10, 2010 at 5:26 pm

oh my gosh…the family tree that utilizes color to indicate race?? BAAAAAHAHAHAHAHAA!!!!

Your family sounds incredible. I have five older brothers from the same parents. Simple, right? :)


27 Lisa Klow November 10, 2010 at 5:56 pm

This was such a great post!

I have sisters 12, 14 and 16 years older than I am. And a brother in between. I was an “oops” – my Mom had me when she was 39 – then turned 40 the next day!


28 tish November 10, 2010 at 6:40 pm

i almost peed my pants. literally! i couldn’t stop reading and even as i sit here commenting away, i’m crossing my legs and telling my fingers to type FASTER!

great post lol…you’re in first place for random cool fam bam right now.


29 Dori November 10, 2010 at 8:10 pm

Amazing. Especially love the color coding in the tree! I didn’t know most of this information about your family, so fascinating and fun!


30 Rachel's Mom November 10, 2010 at 11:14 pm

Preston the clone….lol. He is a science experiment we did in the basement. We were trying to clone me, but we mixed up the chromosomes somehow and got him instead.

One time I showed him a picture of me when I was little and he asked me, “Why did I have such long hair in that picture?” It really did look just like him with a wig on!

This is some funny stuff…and all true!


31 Jackie (Peaces of Earth) November 10, 2010 at 11:34 pm

“He is a science experiment we did in the basement. We were trying to clone me, but we mixed up the chromosomes somehow and got him instead.”



32 Jackie (Peaces of Earth) November 10, 2010 at 11:35 pm

Ahhh, this warms my heart!!! I totally GET IT.


33 Heather November 11, 2010 at 5:55 pm

My “Uncle” Jim is 3 1/2 years older than me, too. I hear ya. and i LOVED learning about your awesome family.


34 Holly November 16, 2010 at 10:03 pm

Your family sounds beautiful and full of love and laughs :) ….I may even be a little jealous


35 Liz @ Blog is the New Black December 18, 2010 at 10:49 pm

I so totally enjoyed reading this, even though it’s an older post. When I saw your little brother on your recent post I was all, “what? who? huh?” Haha! I admire your honesty and sense of humor. ;)


36 Christie December 28, 2010 at 3:03 am

Kay maybe its me… but your family doesnt seem all that complicated lol. I have a friend with a family a little more complicated. Carol had a daughter, Jane. And Jane had a daughter, Marie. Carol decided that after Marie was 12, she wanted another kid, so she had a son, James. James was Marie’s uncle, but was 12 years her junior. That was hard to write and I know them. Of course, names changed to protect the blahblahblah so yeah whatever.

I can see how people get Kara mixed up though since you are so close in age, but I am not really getting why they are confused by Preston.


37 Amanda S. January 31, 2011 at 5:15 pm

SO funny! I completely relate to trying to explain a complicated family tree: my mom divorced my dad, re-married her best friend’s husband, and then my dad re-married to my mom’s best friend. Yes, they switched. So, my 2 step-sisters are doubly so. Lovely. My life was a Jerry Springer episode for a solid 3 years. Who am I kidding, it still is…


38 Alyssa May 12, 2011 at 3:45 pm

OMG, another Zsa Zsa! My baby brother also dubbed me Zsa Zsa – ‘Alyssa’ had too many syllables for his poor hearing and he could only catch the last part. Loving your blog!


39 Kali Ravel October 3, 2011 at 9:44 am

“…I maybe come from a long line of promiscuous women.”

Me too!


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