Everyone has his or her own version of family. Mine, until recently, had included my three children, my immediate family and their children, as well as my mom. My dad died exactly three years ago, but he’s in the equation too … as are my aunts, uncles, cousins, their spouses and children.
Biologically, my children’s dad and his family were part of our tree but since we separated and divorced that part had been fractured. His portion of the family tree included all of his extended family as well.
The fact that that piece of the tree had been severed has always been difficult for me. I missed many of them, but especially the children, my nephews and nieces. In time, one of his siblings reached out to me via Facebook, as did most of his nephews and nieces. But it has not been the same.
Seven summers ago my kids, their father and I moved out of our home at the base of Mt. Diablo. It had an ideal setting. Our children had had the perfect neighborhood to grow up. A creek located behind our house was hunting ground for frogs, bugs and included a rope swing that was a perfect balance of being both challenging and thrilling.
Rock City was a short car ride up the hill, which included caves carved into the giant rocks and trails explored. We had neighborhood Easter egg hunts, sleepovers with other families on a regular basis, a fourth of July bike parade, movie nights, barbeques and the game “Sharks and Minnows” at our local pool.
As they got older we allowed them to walk or ride their bikes to and from their friends’ homes or the pool as long as they carried their high-powered walkie-talkies to stay in communication with one us. They were a short distance to the middle and high school.
They had friends nearby and they felt supported by the community. We camped in our backyard in tents or under the stars. We had family birthday dinners, holiday celebrations and hosted a good majority of them for both branches of their family tree.
When their dad and I decided to divorce we both would have liked to keep the kids in the house but we financially could not afford to do so. We sold the house and eventually moved our separate lives into separate homes.
Mine was a condo located in a different kind of neighborhood. I will say it was an adjustment for nearly everyone. A big one for my children was the girls shared a room again now, after having just getting their own. My son's network was still intact, but no longer within walking distance.
I’ve since heard, on the day I moved in and my sister and sister-in-law drove into the back of my little alleyway. My sister cried looking at our new abode. My sister-in-law in her protective nurturing way told her to buck up for my sake (after a sympathetic hug, I’m sure) and put on a good face for me.
I never knew.
On the day we moved in my children were at their dad’s and I was busily hanging pictures, arranging furniture and deciding what should go where. My big protective brother and brother-in-law were helping, as were friends from the old neighborhood.
A teacher and her spouse lined every cupboard in my kitchen and bathrooms. I think of them every time I open a door. Another friend’s husband moved in the heavy stuff along with one girlfriend and her husband, whom I had just befriended when she heard of my impending divorce and move.
She had brought over Matzo Ball soup, bread, a gallon of milk and cupcakes with pink frosting the day she heard we were separating. I was teaching full time, caring for our three kids and packing up our belongings for the eventual move that would follow six months later. She and her husband helped me label and sell and discard nearly every item that had accumulated from my 17 year marriage. I was touched. They had five children of their own and barely knew me. I call her Saint Laurie who swears.
Another girlfriend, Susie, and her husband, Randy, took my newly formed family of four under their wing. They’d come over and play board games, a sense of normalcy for her boys, my kids, and myself at the time.
I remember the first Christmas when life was so raw she surprised me with two wreaths from Restoration Hardware for me. I’d been eyeing them but was living within my more-meager means. It was a sweet generous gesture and only one among many that I’m making mention, serving as a touching example of her kindness and strength and love.
The kids and I were still in our home at the base of the mountain and it felt partially empty without their dad. We finished out the year and continued through the spring. In June, the school year ended and so did our time in that magical setting.
Just as my local siblings had helped me move into my home during the summer, my sister Laura flew out just as we began our first Thanksgiving in our little condo helping me in a different fashion. Somehow, without making me the least bit sad or sorry for myself my sister guided me through the difficult waters of transition.
By then life had settled down but the holidays proved to be a daunting task. What had always brought me joy filled me with a sense of dread, facing all of the decorations for Christmas, yet again. Only this time out of our house and into our condo.
My sister set about matter-of-factly taking me to Target to purchase a few items. I bought another wreath, covered with cheery silver bells. It made a soft tinkling sound that was just so every time the door was opened. We bought a live juniper tree, which has survived heat, cold, and neglect in the seven seasons that have since passed. It still sits on my porch as a testament of a sister’s love.
This summer, our seventh in our new little home, I can quietly reflect on our surroundings. We may not have a nearby creek, a neighborhood pool or even a backyard for starry sleepovers. We do have the convenience of being able to walk to the movies, the grocery store, the pharmacy or enjoy the most interesting people watching at the shopping center.
Mt. Diablo, ever the constant, is a bike ride distance from us. There is Snake Park for playing hoop with the guys and filled multiple lacrosse and soccer-filled memories or late night talking sessions for each of my children and their friends.
And I’m not entirely naive, I’m sure there have been some make-out sessions too, they are, after all, adults or nearly grown. And though the friendships formed in the old neighborhood are still intact, we have all formed ones in this neck of the woods. Sometimes it involves a further walk or a car ride, sometimes it doesn't, they're right here. But the point is, we have a support system. We are loved and we love.
Many of our friends have moved from the old neighborhood, some from our new one have, too. And though we have not moved, we have moved on.
I walk into my cozy little condo today and feel safe and loved. The carpet upstairs needs replacing and like all homes there are glitches. But it’s mine, ours. There are antique tin geese and watering cans and ticking striped pillows, lots of pillows.
It is a bit of a chick's pad, much to my son's chagrin but there is a respectable TV for his sports to be watched and a decent collection of iTunes music for my youngest and a fridge to be raided for my oldest.
I look around and have happy memories here too.
My version of family has changed over time as well.
What was once seen as severed, their dad’s side of the family tree, isn’t. It’s still there. He and his family are still there. And there has been a graft which now includes his wife and her entire family. The strains of divorce that had taken their toll on our three children, their dad and myself are healing.
WE are healing.
Anger has been replaced by love. We’ve come full circle. I can say, with complete honesty that I love their dad. And his wife. In time, more repairs of strained relationships will heal.
So from where I sit, my version of family now includes my three children, my immediate family and their children, and my mom. My dad, as mentioned earlier is in the equation, as are my aunts, uncles, cousins, their spouses and children. Only now, my version includes their dad and his wife.
We are a family.
The following was chosen by my family to be put into my dad’s memorial program years ago. It states perfectly how I feel about my version of family today.
“Our family is a circle of strength and love. With every birth and every union, the circle grows. Every joy shared adds more love. Every crisis faced together makes the circle stronger.” — Anonymous
This blog originally appeared on http://ihaveastorytotell-cottageplease.blogspot.com/