I’m very privileged to have a family that I’m able to see a few times a year. They’ve helped shape me into the person I am today and their unwavering support has left a lasting impact on my life. (Photo Courtesy of Amanda Ray)
As long as I can remember, family has always been a significant force in my life. I’m lucky enough to have a family that’s very close, with most of my extended family living in North Carolina, and everyone else still in the United States. I get to see almost everyone at least once a year, usually around holidays– although I see my family that still lives in North Carolina every couple months or so. And it’s not like these are people who I feel obligated to spend time with because we’re related by blood, I legitimately enjoy spending time with them and have strong relationships with all of them.
My first memory relating to family is around the time my little sister, Ashlyn, was born. While I was only about two when my mom got pregnant with her, I remember sitting on their bed when they told me I was going to have a sister and feeling her kick against my mom’s belly. I also remember the first time I saw her: I told my parents that we should “throw her in the trash can,” because at that moment I realized I was no longer going to be the center of attention. As Ashlyn and I grew up together, we were like most siblings (going through phases of being friendly and then hating each other), but despite the fact that we were both girls and only two and a half years apart, growing up we weren’t very close. Obviously we are sisters and love each other, but it wasn’t until about two years ago that we grew together and became close friends. Now, I will talk to her about everything, and even spend time with her for fun (something my younger self would not be able to believe). From her I learned that it takes time to build a relationship, and that the people I’m “stuck with” are cooler than I thought.
Besides my parents, my “Papa,” or mom’s father, has been the most influential person in my life. While I can’t think of my first memory with him, I do remember him picking me up from preschool when I was younger. He was a preacher at Highland United Methodist Church, and I went to preschool next door, and everyday he would come pick me up–always first in line– and on special occasions we would go to Wendy’s for a frosty and fries.
Nearly everywhere we went, we were approached by people that said hello and sparked conversation, sometimes asking if I was the “famous” Amanda he always told stories about. I always thought that he must be famous somehow, and eventually came to realize that being a preacher makes you pretty well known in the community. One thing that stuck out to me about my Papa is that he always remembered people’s name and kindly talked to people wherever we went. He was the kind of person you wanted to be around: always uplifting others and treating them with kindness and compassion– something I’ve tried to incorporate into my own life.
My twin brothers, Carson and Davis, are also very influential and have been so fun to watch grow up. I also remember when my parents told me they were having my brothers and while at first I thought they were lying–two babies at once seemed like a prank– Ashlyn and I were excited to have two brothers running around. This time, I didn’t tell my mom to throw my siblings away, but instead was heartbroken when it took them almost two weeks to come home from the hospital (they were premature and everyone in the family got sick right before they were born).
Since the day they came home, they’ve been causing chaos around the house and making my life a lot more interesting. From them I’ve been able to enjoy the playfulness of childhood for longer than I would’ve without them and have learned not to take anything too seriously.
Some of my fondest memories growing up were with my cousins on our family beach trips. My dad’s parents were able to snag a beach house back in the 70’s, so growing up my family always went to the beach together. We would cram my family of six, my six cousins and their significant others, my aunts and uncles, and my grandparents into seven bedrooms and spend the week of July 4th at the beach. During this week, we spent countless hours on the beach, playing soccer or football, boogie boarding, and rolling around in the sand. My cousins, while I initially had to spend time with them, were my first best friends and ultimately taught me the skills necessary to play and form connections with others.
By far, my parents are the most influential people in my life. They’ve been there for me since day one, and their consistent support and love has given me the tools I need to be successful. They’ve sacrificed countless hours of their life taking me and my three siblings to practice and competitions. My dad gave me an example of having a strong drive and a great work ethic. He sacrifices his own time to work for my swim team, which reduces the cost of my travels for swim meets. My mom, while also hardworking, demonstrated consistent kindness and empathy towards others that I’ve always tried to replicate. Their examples give me a high standard to strive for, and their sacrifices allow me to be successful.
My family serves as a backbone for me. They’re always there for me when I need support, and check up with me regularly to see how I’m doing. The experiences I’ve had with my family developed me into the person I am today, and I’m so fortunate they’re such a strong force in my life.