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Measuring For Familyhood

What constitutes family? Does it come only in the form of childbirth placement, bringing baby home from the hospital, and then living with this new creature long enough to include them in the family photo carried inside your heart?

For myself, I’ve adopted people into my heart and my family many times during my adulthood. Yesterday I talked briefly about one man and his whole family whom I adopted in the 1990’s. Today, I chose to talk about another. Before I do, I want to explain one point.

I believe that as adults we adopt, whether acknowledged or not, those people who help define us to ourselves. Lou was one who encouraged me to play and not be so serious all the time, to relax without losing focus, to enjoy without dismissing the importance of other things. He and his family taught me many things. Through them I gained a broader understanding of the quality of family.

My first adopted sister was a college roommate. She and I survived tuna casseroles and pasta staples for a school year in a tiny apartment that gave us independence and an opportunity to exercise by walking to classes a mile away. We grew as people and as sisters.

Her family adopted me. I gathered them all into my expanding basket of potential family members. Cheryl was the first person to encourage me to write, who, in fact, sat down with me in off time and helped me write my first science fiction book. We wrote seamlessly together.

When she graduated at the end of that year, the book ended, but not the dream or intent of writing. Our friendship and sisterhood didn’t falter there, either. She named me Maid of Honor for her wedding, named me Godmother of her girls as they came along, and drove with her husband for two hours to be there for me at my mother’s funeral. She loved my mom almost as much as I did after having met her only a couple of times.

We no longer get the time to talk like we once did. Her life of motherhood, wife, and work keep her busy. My youngest goddaughter is getting married before long. I’d love to be there for that.

Throughout these many years of our friendship, Cheryl and I have remained connected. We could meet tomorrow and pick up conversations where we’d left off twenty years ago. That’s the kind of relationship we have. I would feel comfortable in her newly renovated kitchen; a kitchen I remember sitting in several times with her and her family, laughing, kibitzing, sharing.

I could rummage around in her new fridge and grab whatever I wanted to eat at midnight and not feel a bit of guilt or distress, because she’d be more upset if I didn’t feed my hunger. That’s part of who she is. I’m family, after all.

And while we’ve been separated by thousands of miles since the mid-eighties, we manage to talk once in a while, catch up, and commiserate. If we’re very lucky, one of these days we’ll meet somewhere for a few days and just play, shop, and laugh like we did at BSU. That would be a capper.

Yet, the real capper to the whole story is that my mother adopted Cheryl into her heart as well. I guess I followed my mother’s habits more than most realized. Mom tended to adopt all sorts of people, sometimes as much out of necessity as anything else.

In the end, I suppose, family is defined by those we hold close in our hearts, our thoughts, and our memories. I would be a lesser person if I’d never known this sweet lady with a smile that shines across a room and a generous spirit who holds true to her convictions and faith, regardless of provocation.

Like Lou and his family, Cheryl helped me define myself and what family really means for me. That’s what more important than bloodlines.

The way I see it, family is all relative.

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