So today, I asked my students to come up with a theme for me to write about tonight. I thought it might be fun to see what kind of theme in which they would be interested in understanding my own thoughts and memories. I gave them three minutes as to limit and focus the conversation, at 2 minutes and 16 seconds in they found it. For the first minute it was babble,then in the second it was topics, but those started to coalesce into the mother of all themes…family. I don’t think my students knew the kind of challenge they had put up, but here goes…
I am adopted. Its a simple statement. I’m adopted. See, I can even eliminate a syllable from it and make it a two word sentence. Yet, people sometimes don’t know how to react when I first tell them this simple fact about my life. To me, its on the same level as “I have two sisters.” But to many that I tell, its more on the level of “I have two sisters who are either severely ill, lost, or famous.” But it’s simple. I’m adopted. So why is this simple fact where I begin my thoughts on the theme of family? Besides the obvious, it is the gift of being adopted that taught me what family really truly is. I grew up always knowing that my parents were my adopted parents. It was the same as knowing my address, but what I didn’t realize as a child was that this inherent knowledge would become my tether and anchor in life.
See, family gets wrapped up in love and loss, pride and shame, joy and utter annoyance. Ask anyone about their family and you will get a myriad of responses. They will run the whole gamut of feelings. When we think about family we gravitate to the people we grew up with, our parents, siblings, aunt, uncles, cousins, grandparents, and we all have such a different experience with them. Then there are the other families, the metaphorical families. Work families, college families, family-in-laws, friend families. These are the families we often cling to when our “families” have too much distance or become too toxic. These families are the Neosporin that coats the wounds of our past, the substitutes of what we can’t have right now.
I’ve always known that blood does not make a family, that it is the bonds and the memories that truly matter. I’ve always known that family is a loose construct for those to whom we are closest. I love my family, my mom, dad and sisters. I love them in all those crazy, silly, serious, and oh-my-goodness-the-only-reason-I-talk-to-you-is-because-you-are-family kind of ways. But because of them, because of my parents willingness to take a child who was not theirs and to love it as their own, and my sisters’ complete adherence to the stereotypes of older sisters, I know now what family truly is….family is not blood, not groups or networks, but family are the people you cannot take out of your life, no matter how hard you may try.
I’ve had bucketfuls of friends. Friends come in droves, if you open your heart and ears once in a while. But many of them come and then go. I’ve had relationships, deep, passionate, intense relationships, some that last for days and some that last for years…but they come and then go. I’ve found soulmates and classmates, best friends and friends-of-friends, but they, too, come and go. But some, some are family.
Just like my parents and sisters, who are not blood and who I couldn’t walk away from if I wanted, there have been people in my life who I cannot shake or let go. They are the ones you run to even after its been two years. They are the ones who can annoy you but you will still love. They are the ones who will go into your fridge and eat the plums without asking. They are the ones you just can’t shake.
This is family. This is family in its purest. The people who remain, who will take you in and let you go, whenever you need. The ones who need no, “Sorry I haven’t called, I’ve been busy,”explanations, who just want to pick up where you left off and continue the journey because it doesn’t matter if its been two weeks, two years, or even two decades because, “darn it, I love you.”
I’m so glad I was adopted, to have learned and know that family runs much deeper than blood. There are only two people that I know on this earth that are related to my by blood. Only two. My sons, Liam and Ben. But I don’t love them because of the genes we share, but instead because I know I will always, always, always be their family. I will never leave them, desert them, or even just “fall out of touch” with them. I will run to them when they need me, rejoice when they return from a long absence, and listen when they themselves will not. Not because I have to or have a duty to, but because I know what family is and should be. From the day they were born to the day I shuffle off this mortal coil, I will be their family.
Love is not love, which alters when it alteration finds…
-William Shakespeare (a brother of mine)