Family is bring-your-own-cooler-and-lawn-chairs picnics. It's food piled on disposable aluminum trays on rickety card tables covered with sticky, gingham-check plastic tablecloths. It's too many casseroles—the only common ingredient of which is mayonnaise. And it's dessert tables that illustrate poor potluck planning—everyone brings ambrosia. The women wear poly-blend pastel shirts and white Dr. Scholl's sandals; they bring reclining fold-up chairs. The men play boccie ball and talk about porch and deck additions. Sun-kissed kids only come around to eat or wash off a cut. Most of the time they're off catching creek critters and climbing trees.

Family is Sunday mornings in pajamas with Dad making waffles and batter oozing out the sides of the griddle. It's mom with her hair in rollers, folding laundry. And it's brothers lying around, telling themselves that at noon they will get dressed and start the day.

Family is a heap of people laughing, crying, living and dying. Family takes you in, dysfunction and all, and calls on you to do nothing more than love. Family points out what you can't see. Family sees what you can't point out.

Family says everything. Family says nothing at all. Family sends us far away. But for our family, we'll always come back. As a child, family is our first model of the larger world. As an adult, we take that model and improve and replicate it in our daily lives.

—Mary Cinadr, age 21, Clifton Park, New York