Since the day I was born, I’ve had seven grandparents — three on my mom’s side and four on my dad’s side. It was never odd to me; it was our normal.
On my mom’s side, my Grammy, Big Dad and Pops live in Philadelphia; on my dad’s side, my Mum Mum and Poppy live in Washington, D.C. and my Papasan and Barbs live in Orange County, California.
All of them are equally important to me and helped shape the person I am today because of their influences on my life. It felt like hitting the jackpot having so many people supporting and loving me despite the exhausting tug of war of spreading my teenage years among all my grandparents.
I’ve lived in a multi-generational custody agreement. Both sets of my grandparents divorced and all but one of them remarried, which meant my parents split their time in four households, so my brother and I did too.
When friends would ask me how I had so many grandparents, I would say, “All of them remarried, except one.”
They would respond, “Oh, so step grandparents?”
That term stung a little, as if they were writing them off and putting an asterisk next to their names. They aren’t my ‘step anything,’ they are my family even if we don’t share DNA.
When I explain my unique relationship with my grandparents, people are always taken aback. Most families have grandparents that they see on holidays, while I needed to travel on what seemed like cross-country excursions to spend time with my grandparents.
Holiday weekends were a mad dash to fit both sides of the family in two days. We would leave our apartment on the Upper West Side of New York on Saturday, drive to Philadelphia for the night, head to Washington D.C. on Sunday, then back to New York in time for school on Tuesday.
I picked up different relationship dynamics, behavioral expectations and diverse ways of life from my seven grandparents. I was immersed in various perspectives formed in different sects of Black America.
I saw many levels of success and ways of living in areas like Orange County, California, Washington, D.C. and parts of West Philadelphia. I witnessed a long history of my family navigating systemic racism and trying to achieve “The American Dream.”
I picked up the best traits of all seven of my grandparents throughout our time together.
My Grammy was a deacon, so we would attend church whenever we were visiting and that’s why I’m faithful, while Big Dad’s an avid bowler, instilling in me a love for the game. I was never afraid to get my hands dirty because Pops worked construction and was the funniest person on the site.
Serena Williams’ career meant so much to me because my Mum Mum loved playing tennis, so every summer I would spend two weeks in D.C. perfecting my serve with her. Poppy’s a reputable radio show host and is heavily involved in the Boys and Girls Clubs, so I grew up listening to Frank Sinatra on the radio and valuing community service.
I’ve always been fashionable and loved art because Barbs was a buyer for Condé Nast. Papasan co-owned Boomers, the jazz club in Greenwich Village in the 1970s, cementing my love for the genre. He was a journalist and advertising executive, which is why my journalism career means so much to me now that he’s gone.
I had so many role models to learn from, whether I knew it then or not. They taught me how to be an adaptable warrior, and how to deeply explore who I am. I had a hideaway when I was overwhelmed in life in my Grammy’s mac and cheese and hugs and the Jackie & Roy songs my Mum Mum introduced me to.
There are a million little things they all gave me, tucked away in memories and seen in the person I’ve become. While most people saw having seven grandparents as a rarity, I always saw a recipe for more love.