I really thought the piles of laundry and the mounds of dishes would weigh on me more when I got in tonight after 10, with my exhausted 30 pounds of toddler on one arm and the 60 pounds of supporting evidence in the other. I really thought the computer would be the last place I’d go to escape, but if I don’t share some of this joy I have in me after a week with family, I think I might burst. Domestic duties pale in comparison (and should). In fact, they just don’t matter.

This week was the week of the year that we get to see my husband’s sister (she’s number four out of the six kids) and her family. They “came home” for fair time, and the rip-roaring no-big-deal-to-us county fair didn’t let them down. Bivia went home with something like six ribbons and at least one episode of jumping up and down on her way out of the show ring and smiling ear to ear and hugging everyone in reach (that was my favorite). The unexpected win was definitely the best.

Then, tonight, after a day spent buckling down on Potty Training (and trying the underwear, and laughing at the unexpected (why unexpected? What was I thinking would happen?) puddles), we had the Cousin Fest. Six kids, ages 10 to 18 months, and me with my mouth agog taking it all in. You see, being an aunt was the first step to being a mom for me. I never would have thought motherhood possible if not for these amazing women who are my husband’s sisters. They have these children who just adore me and who make the phrase “Aunt Sarah” music to my ears.

I grew up with one cousin, so this Cousin Fest is nothing short of fabulous to me. The kids picked up their fighting as if it had never left off, and this is also nothing short of fabulous. They are so comfortable with each other, they don’t even have to be siblings to get into it! And we’re all comfortable enough to just jump in and correct as needed, and I know Toddler-tron is A-OK wherever she heads in the gaggle of people (6 kids plus spouses and parents, plus the six kids).

And seeing my sister-in-law again was refreshing. Although my husband’s sisters are mysterious to me (they like to shop, for one thing, and they’re just…weird…in other ways too), they are also my friends somehow. (Their brother, however, has made no bones about being the older sibling and the fact that he would still beat them up if he could. This is his role in the family – Older Brother (technically #2, but the two oldest are like one being in the Family Mind), Protector and Defender Who Takes No Crap.) Susan’s been through a lot, and I’ve learned a lot from what she’s been through. Her girls ARE my nieces, even though I married into this adventure, and so in loving them, I love Susan too. I have learned about how painful the questions about kids are (“So, are you having more?” or “When’s the next one?” or “What, no boys?” or…well, you get the idea), and I have learned tips on how to handle those donkeys in my life from Susan’s graceful demeanor and approach to human relations. I’ve also watched her love her kids and her sister’s kids, and it’s opened the way for me to be a more open and affectionate aunt and mother.

I look at this cup running over, and I can’t help but wonder: what was better, the jumping-up-and-down win or the two hugs I landed when I had to leave tonight? What will I remember longer, the fight over who sits by me (but only because I was holding my daughter; I don’t get all the popularity points anymore) or the sweet kisses on each cheek that I got when I arrived? What will mean more, playing hide-and-seek or the 300 pictures I took at the fair?

Can my cup get fuller? Lord, can I say thanks loudly enough?

This family has taught me that family can (a) like each other and (b) laugh together without making fun of anyone. I thank God every day for the gift of my husband, who is the sort of person a person like me should not have “landed” – he’s just the best guy in the world, really. But what I really need to start doing is thanking God for this wonderful family that surrounded my husband and has now embraced me, because they are making me into the woman and mother I think I should be. I get to be the aunt I never had, and I am doing it in company of a few other women who deserve pedestals. My daughter has these phenomenal aunts and uncles who just eat her up; I’m pretty sure she won’t have this big chip on her shoulder or the pain in her heart from being the eternal stepchild (no, we’re breeding better hybrid dysfunctions in our daughter, thank you very much).