I’m a firm believer in welcoming as many people into your “family” as possible. I was blessed with phenomenal parents and a sister who is my very best friend. I married an exceptional partner – a man with an incredible mom (whose dad I wish I could have met because I’m sure I’d love him too) and brothers who treat me like I am their sister (I am, after all, but it feels very special to be welcomed like that), and a multitude of cousins and aunts and uncles. They love me so much that they never stop asking me when I’m going to get pregnant because they want a grandchild/niece/nephew to spoil! 😉
But I also have other people I consider my family. People my heart has “adopted.” People who are more than just friends to me. Maybe it comes from my parents – after all, I grew up calling (and still call, yes, at almost-32-years-old) their best friends “Aunt” and “Uncle.” I grew up with three sets of grandparents, too, and not because of divorce. My mom had been “adopted” into a family when she first came to California, before she met my dad. Once my dad came along, he was quickly accepted (in fact, he became best friends with the patriarch) and we were their first grandchildren. They didn’t treat us any differently once they actually had biological grandchildren of their own. When someone is family, they’re family – no matter who they were born to.
I didn’t decide to make these people into my “family” – they just were. Sometimes completely subconsciously. Sometimes from the moment I met them, sometimes completely out of the blue. Further proof that how well you know someone, or how often you talk with them, doesn’t determine how important they are to you. It also doesn’t necessarily make any sense at all.
Sometimes I feel like a momma duck with ducklings, even with the “family” older than me, checking up on them to make sure they’re going to be safe and happy. I think it’s my personality to want to make sure the people I love are okay.
My best friends from high school and college are my “brothers” – in fact, when we weren’t sure if my dad’s back would hold up long enough for him to walk me down the aisle on my wedding day, my second choice was walking up the aisle with one of them on either side of me. One is married now, and I am so thankful that he found someone I could love like my sister; the other has just started dating someone and I am pretty confident I’m going to love her, but I’m still holding my breath (seriously, these are worries that go through your head when your male best friend first starts dating someone, silly as it sounds… Will she like me? Will she feel weird that he’s already got a girl that he shares so much in his life with? I suppose I’m lucky, too, because my husband’s best friend is a girl, so I know she went through the same thing, and I know I passed that test!).
In Kindergarten I was best friends with two girls. We’d dance around the soccer field, singing doo-wop songs in harmony with choreographed dance moves. One of the girls moved to another school shortly afterward; the other moved a few years later. Fast forward to the end of Fifth grade (I went to a Catholic school from K-8) when I found out that (my favorite) one of the two was moving back to town and coming back to school. We were together almost constantly that year until disaster struck (her dad was killed in an accident) and she moved away again. Thanks to the magic of technology we’ve stayed in intermittent touch ever since; we even got to see each other for a nice long day when I was visiting relatives a few years ago (and we’re hoping to do the same this year). We might not talk every day, but when we were together it was like we’d never been apart. We’re always laughing, too, that we’re sisters separated at birth, because we’re still so similar – we even get sick at the same times (yes, 2,000 miles apart).
About 9 (!!) years ago I met six women I consider sisters, all through the same thing. I won’t get into it here (nothing bad, just slightly embarassing to look back on… Itwasasillyfanthingokay?), but from the first week I knew them I knew they were going to be a big part of my life. For two of them, we’re just months apart in age, and we’ve grown from nerdy 23 year olds to… Well, less nerdy 32 year olds (I hope). We’ve been in each other’s weddings. We’ve had sleepovers like teenagers, staying up giggling all night. They’re the first people I think of when something amazing happens, or when I need an honest opinion. The others range in age from just a few years older than me to a few months older than my mom, and while we don’t talk as often as we used to (I remember one day in particular when we stayed up until about 3 am chatting via e-mail; considering one lives on the East Coast, that was awfully late!), we keep tabs on each other, celebrate with each other, and support each other. For a long time I was the baby sister, and I guess I still am, but they’ve helped me to grow up into the woman I am today.
Two summers ago I was introduced to someone who would open my “family” circle even wider – at the time, just someone else I was singing with, with an amazing voice, who could sight read music (okay, I was more than a bit jealous!); I didn’t get close to my “little sister” until last summer, when we sang together again, in a similar group, along with several other members. One of the members was a young girl who reminds me so much of myself at her age; her mother and I started chatting and realized we had so very much in common. Soon the three of us grew close. Within a few months my “little sister” and my “older sister” and I could hardly think of life without each other.
Around the same time I was introduced to another “sister.” We’re both wedding professionals, and officially met over coffee. But it was as though we were just picking up a conversation where we left off; we immediately started talking about all the great things we were going to do together. We’ve collaborated on projects and created beautiful things, come up with ideas and will (hopefully) be starting something else amazing together soon; the latest was a photo shoot we put together in just one crazy week, an insane ride where it felt like we were sharing a single brain. We disagreed on one single point throughout the whole process, and we were both totally surprised by it. It’s strange to me that I’ve known her less than a year, since it feels like I’ve known her my whole life.
About a month ago I was going about my business when I was suddenly struck by worry for someone I’ve known for two thirds of my life, the father of my ex boyfriend. I know it sounds bizarre but I was suddenly (and when I say suddenly, I very nearly pulled over on the side of the freeway to check on him) worried to distraction for a man I haven’t seen in over a decade. I followed up and it turned out that he was very sick (sicker than anyone knew at that moment, in fact), and he had surgery a few days later. I kept tabs on his surgery and recovery, and a few weeks later was struck by the same worry. Sure enough he’d been airlifted from the recovery center to the hospital about the same time I was thinking of him, with an infection, which (thankfully) cleared in a few days. I’ve always felt a lot of love for him and his wife – they were so very good to me for many years (before, during, and after I dated their son; in fact I was thrilled to send them a Christmas card last year) – but I had no idea I’d “adopted” them until this experience. I guess you can never have too many godparents.
This week it appears I’ve “adopted” another sibling. It’s kind of a strange case, and I’m still not 100% sure I understand it. But regardless of whether it makes sense, I was introduced to my new “brother” several years ago, as potential boyfriend material. It would have been a rather spectacular failure in any case, for a lot of different reasons, and I’ve never been sorry that it came to a quick end (okay, maybe for a few hours), but I’ve always felt slightly protective and concerned toward him. Over the course of the last eight years he’s had more heartbreak than anyone should ever have to; it hurts me to think about it. Regardless of how we initially met, I am now firmly in the “protective big sister” category in both our minds, and that’s exactly as it should have been all along. He actually apologized for treating me not-so-well all those years ago, to which I replied, “Actually, I’m glad you did; if you wouldn’t have, we probably wouldn’t be having this conversation right now!”
Earlier this week, out of the blue, he started pestering me about when my husband and I were going to have kids. “Why,” I asked, “are you so looking forward to becoming an uncle?” “Yes!” he answered. “Only I’m way more excited about spoiling your kids than my [biological] sister’s!”
I couldn’t help but feel the warmth come through in that sentence, and I grinned.
There are lots of ways to become family with someone. You can be born. You can marry. Or you can somehow connect and simply choose to be. And when it comes to what’s important in my life, the family in my life trumps professional success or personal accolades every single time. I just feel so blessed to have every one of them in my life.
Oh, and even though my heart is full, there’s always room for one more.