If you regularly read my blog, you know that my family consists of myself, 2 biological kids, and many young adults (and their children) who find their way to us, whether by court order or simply because they have chosen us. We have a crew that many might find too colorful, too challenging, or too dynamic, but for us, family is family, and our commitment to it and to one another makes up for the bloodline we lack.
We are a living example of unconditional love and acceptance, whether that means bighting one’s tongue through the periodic autistic tantrum, or the discretion required to support the illiterate amongst us who struggles to read a menu at a restaurant. Whatever the challenge, no matter how difficult, embarrassing, or heart-breaking, we get through it together as families are meant to do.
Our world is unique, but it is ours.
A year ago today, in preparation for the traditional New Year’s Eve family celebration, I pawned a few remaining trinkets in exchange for enough cash to buy 2 bottles of cheap champagne and a bag of chips. We dressed up in our best but old clothes and celebrated the changing year as if we were something special – because we are. And though there was much missing from our lives, we focused on the good. We focused on each other – our colorful, character-filled family.
We laughed and played, and teased one another. We took photos, told “Remember When” stories, and created more memories. When midnight arrived, we kissed our loved ones then banged pots and pans out in the chilly country night air.
And when the incessant buzz in our ears dissipated after we put away the pots and pans, we unknowingly walked straight into a new year that brough significant changes for us in our unique world. A new job for me meant the end of government assistance for everyone. And as frightening as change can be, we collectively held our breath and dove head first into our future.
We packed up and moved out of the toxic town that was a daily nightmare due to the rampant racism and corruption of local law enforcement. And though we are now living in 1/3 of the space, situated in two different townhomes near one another, the loss of residential luxury is barely noticed, so satisfied are we in a new city filled with hope and promise.
We’ve welcomed new family members into the brew, one of whom came to us sooner than expected by her early birth, and 3 more who arrived in a Budget Rental Truck. Other family members came and went but remain close — as close as possible with the use of cell phones and Facebook.
We’ve made new friends, and found new hang-outs. New routines are established. And though, to the chagrin of all my kids, I am still not dating, I am at least finally thinking about it.
Some of us are a bit thinner than we were 365 days ago, the result not of eating less but of eating better. Others in our family are a bit larger, also the result of eating better and escaping the plight of malnutrition brought on by poverty.
New clothes and shoes magically transform the posture of those in our family who’ve lived too long with slumped shoulders and hanging chins. And for the ladies amongst us, there’s a medicinal quality to the frivolity of a manicure, pedicure, and a touch of fresh hair color.
And, so, here we are – 365 days later – still the same, but oh-so-different.
As I write this, I hear the giggles of a vivacious 3-year-old who tries the patience of her mother as she attempts to braid row after row of thick, black hair on her beautiful little head. It’s a big job, but looking our best for New Year’s Eve is part of our tradition. Every once in awhile, as her mother finishes another row of braids, she runs up to my room to proudly announce, “Look, Granny! I’m pretty!”
As she bounces away, I watch out the window and see my biological son with his diseased-ridden legs, gimping from his townhouse to my car in search of CDs; the music for our New Year’s gala this evening is his responsibility – and he takes his responsibilities seriously. I hear the sound of a bouncing basketball. It’s another of my kids enjoying his Christmas gift on a day full of sunshine and comfortable temperatures. He tries to distract his white brother from his chores. He fails, and walks away looking for someone else in the family who might be willing to play. I have no doubt he’ll find someone. And then, he does.
There is a full size ham slowly roasting in the crock pot, filling the townhouse with a tantalizing aroma. It’s a real ham, the kind Grandma used to bake for Christmas – not the kind that is squeezed into a can and distributed by a food pantry.
The peacefulness of my last day of the year is interrupted only by the phone. At last count, by noon, I’ve answered 7 calls from kids who call me Mom – the last one being from my biological daughter. It was a sad call. “I miss my family…” she said, through tears. “I’ll come see you tomorrow,” I promised. “I’ll stay overnight. We’ll do whatever you want to do.” It eased her home-sickness, a home-sickness born not from a place but from the feeling of family.
Today, when I run to the store to buy our party supplies, I’ll pull out my debit card and slide it through the reader with little concern for the sales total. As evening arrives, the kids will filter in, dressed in something sparkly or handsome. On this last day of 2011, the last day to enjoy our Christmas lights that traditionally sparkle until midnight, the champagne will be plenty – and it won’t be the cheapest bottle on the shelf.
We’ll toast to ourselves and to our friends, but mostly we’ll toast to those of us who we consider family who can’t be with us tonight – my biological daughter, half a dozen “sons” stuck in the city of St. Louis, and many more from coast to coast and up into Canada.
We will play games, take photos, tease, and laugh. New memories will be made, new stories created. And as the New Year arrives, we’ll kiss our loved ones and — neighbors-be-damned –we’ll bang pots and pans out in the chilly night air — till the incessant buzz in our ears once again ushers us into our future.
Happy New Year.