Have you ever sat next to a family member at a summer get together, and midway through your usual “life-update” exchange, you start realizing that even though you love them, you don’t really know them?
I have. It happens to me all the time.
Most recently, it was Memorial Day, and I was sitting at a beach picnic with my tío Nick. Nick is my tall, cheery, mustachioed great uncle, who grows heirloom tomatoes and calls me muchacha. He’s married to my tía Esther, my grandma’s little sister, and has been at every family gathering 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 were to ask me what his favorite color was, or his middle name. I. Could. Not. Tell. You. I know! The shame!
As we sat side-by-side by the ocean, I realized I wanted to move past knowing the uncle version of him that I’d known for the past 30 years. I decided to be intentional and ask him the kinds of questions that I’d ask a new friend:
Who’s the #1 musician, dead or alive, that you’d see live in concert?
What dish could you eat every day for the rest of your life?
What’s one of your favorite childhood memories?
The first time I’d tested out this method was years ago with my then-13-year-old brother, Sam. We were driving to get frozen yogurt, and I noticed him humming and tapping along to The Avett Brothers. It suddenly struck me: he’s an actual human with his own life, dreams, and insecurities. He’s not just my baby brother. Instead of asking personal questions as his protective older sister, I asked him more unexpected questions like, what’s a movie you could quote in your sleep? Or, which celebrity would you invite for dinner? After that conversation, a switch flipped in our relationship. Because I took a break from my role as the bossy older sister, Sam started opening up to me about his world.
During my informal interview of tío Nick on the beach, we talked about his rose and vegetable garden. I learned that starting an avocado tree is as simple as sticking three toothpicks into a pit and keeping it in a mason jar. And he shared how he knew he was going to marry Esther the moment he laid eyes on her in the high school cafeteria.
To be honest, I still don’t know Nick’s middle name or favorite color. But his life feels a lot more real and less mysterious to me. And I’m excited to learn more.
How about you? Do you have any go-to tips to bonding with family? Please share below.
P.S. How to say goodbye at a party, and 12 questions to ask your significant other.