Part of that is choice, and part is necessity.
In our family, there is one grandparent on one side, and four on the other. There are two fully biological aunts and two such uncles. There is the uncle that is the half-brother, and the uncle that is a step, the aunt that is a step - and all the spouses. Four godparents are not biologically related.
There are 12 cousins. Two are mixed race. Two speak English as their second language. One has no siblings and a lot of sports. Nine have only one sister. Two have just one brother. Two have two brothers. One is an actor. Two are adopted. Two are teenagers. One attends boarding school. Four are five and younger. Two are in middle school. Six live in-state.
Add 'em up and it's a lot more than 12. Nobody can be just one thing. And we have two sets of friends the children call "cousins"and we don't necessarily correct.
An aunt, an uncle, a grandmother, and two godmothers have no children of their own- so ours get to be a novelty.
We have one GED, so far. And we have some crazy number of advanced degrees, including three PhD's. We go to different churches, those of us who go, and we live in different regions of the U.S. For stretches of time, at least two relatives are in different countries altogether. One is half Icelandic. We are many different shades of human.
We are a big, bizarre jumble - and our kids are truly excited when distant relatives emerge, and plans expand. Fascinatingly, the question "how exactly are we related?" has really never come up. Not even with Bass, who is 9, and questions everything.
Two degrees of separation- from us to others- bring together wholly implausible combinations of people.
We are bi-coastal, bipartisan, biracial. Biologically connected, and not.
A family should stretch. It should embrace. Children should be around adults from different places who do things differently than their parents. They should know there are Special people, people for whom they should be willing to do anything. The bonds to those people formed before many were even born.
I love that we can look around our extended family and, making no excuses, see true and loving organic diversity. I love the differentness and celebrating the sameness - common histories and common nows. I love that people call, and drop in - and stay awhile.
We are, even those among us who don't know what they believe about such things, truly blessed. All of us.