Have you ever sat next to a family member at a summer reunion, and halfway through your usual “life update” exchange, you begin to realize that even though you like it, you don’t really like it. know them?
I have. It happens to me all the time.
More recently, it was Memorial Day, and I was sitting at a picnic on the beach with my tío Nick. Nick is my cheerful, mustachioed great uncle, who grows heirloom tomatoes and calls me lotchacha. He is married to my tía Esther, my grandmother’s little sister, and has attended every family reunion since 1971, decades before I was born. When I was in elementary school, he and my tía would take me on spontaneous trips to McDonalds and the movies and show me how to make tortillas from scratch. He’s actually one of my favorite uncles.
But if you asked me what his favorite color was, or his middle name. I could. Not. Say. You. I know! Shame!
As we sat side by side by the ocean, I realized I wanted to move past knowing the uncle’s version of him I’d known for 30 years. I decided to be intentional and ask him the kind of questions I would ask a new friend:
Who is the number one musician, dead or alive, that you would see in concert?
What dish could you eat every day for the rest of your life?
What is one of your best childhood memories?
The first time I tried this method was years ago with my then 13 year old brother Sam. We were driving to buy frozen yogurt, and I noticed him humming and tapping the Avett Brothers. It suddenly hit me: he’s a real human with his own life, dreams and insecurities. He is not just my little brother. Instead of asking personal questions as her protective older sister, I asked her more unexpected questions like, what’s a movie you could quote in your sleep? Or, which celebrity would you invite to dinner? After this conversation, a switch flipped in our relationship. Because I took a break from being a bossy older sister, Sam began to open me up to her world.
During my informal interview with tío Nick on the beach, we talked about his rose and vegetable garden. I learned that starting an avocado tree is as easy as sticking three toothpicks in a pit and keeping it in a mason jar. And he shared how he knew he was going to marry Esther the moment he saw her in the high school cafeteria.
To be honest, I still don’t know Nick’s middle name or favorite color. But his life seems much more real and less mysterious to me. And I can’t wait to know more.
And you? Do you have any tips for bonding with family? Please share below.