“Is your sister really as nice as she seems?” I asked.

“She’s even better.”

My cousin John didn’t even pause before saying that. A year later, I’m still blown away whenever I recall the exchange, as John has the type of relationship I long for. It’s the kind I want with all my connections on earth.

I grew up in a New York Italian family, but my experience is almost the exact opposite of his. It’s why I tried creating an ideal family for my children. I wanted them to feel loved. Wanted. Heard. Thrilled over. Like they mattered.

It isn’t possible to love them more than I did, or be more fascinated by their little beings than I was. And while I tried my hardest to manifest an ideal family, the fact is, I was still broken when raising my kids.

I put a halt to many vicious cycles, but I wasn’t the perfect mom I set out to be.

There was no physical violence in our home, but like my parents, I did yell. Not to the extent that I experienced growing up, and not during their formative years, still, I yelled at times. Still do.

Some traits are just passed down through the genes, no matter how hard you try to extinguish them. Another trait I tried stomping out is the notion of “one and done.” Meaning, you can store up a lifetime of positive exchanges, but instead of talking through difficult issues that come up in any intimate relationship—that’s it—you’re cast from people’s lives. Unless, of course, you submit. Give up your soul. Your voice. Your heart. And just to have a relationship. A relationship without meaning. Depth. Intimacy. Security. Real love.

It takes everything in me not to go there.

I don’t know how John’s family navigated their way to the wonderful place they’re in, them being New York Italian like me. And yet they did. And it’s beautiful. Just like the exchange above shows.

And while I haven’t totally succeeded in creating what they have, I will never stop trying.

Because at the end of the day, I still know what I know. There is a breakdown of family in America today, and really, in all relationships. Yet not having a secure foundation of people to rely on is why our nation is suffering. Some of us are so lonely that we’re killing ourselves at unprecedented rates. And those of us who are sticking around are operating at such deficits of love that we’ve gotten really mean.

It’s a vicious cycle that must be broken.

And it’s going to take more of us who are also leading lives of quiet desperation to set our own misery aside to carry the banner that says yes to family. Yes to friends. Yes to love. Laughter. Real talk. To caring that’s backed up by deed. What we cobble together won’t be perfect, but it’ll be perfect enough. And better to be part of a small significant circle, than to feel the loneliness that sometimes occurs in a large superficial one.

The photo: The sun rising into a new day of hope, love and peace. Wishing all that for you, and more.

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