I saw “Frozen”. Awesome! Beautiful! Love! Ok, so my boys thought it was “slightly girlie.” No matter, I hope everyone sees it. What made it so special for me and probably most adults was the love of sisters, siblings.
I saw two sisters who have their children attend the same school as mine. I see them walk together to drop off their kids. Their physical resemblance is uncanny and while unique in their individual appearance, they are sisters. They have the same kind of hair and walk the same way and even wear similar jackets. It is really lovely to see. I think, how nice for their children to grow up in such a tight knit family where everything is contained and insular.
Over dinner one night, my nephew from the other side of the family asked aloud “Aunt Joy, where is your family? Don’t you have a family?” Dramatic pause from others who heard that blunt question. I was a tickled. From the traditional standpoint, I have it covered. I married into a family and we spend a whole lot of together time. From my children’s perspective, they are covered with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins in the usual traditional sense. For me, my identified family is a little less traditional.
It has taken me a long time to be comfortable with the constellation of the chosen family I have. I don’t think as a 40 something year old woman, I need to be tethered to my family of origin. But the holidays are here and it always brings up the natural questions – where do you go, what do you do, who do you spend these special days with? In my twenties it was totally ok for a bunch of us to just gather, New York city is perfect for those of us in transition. Everyone is transitory, so the idea of “chosen family” felt trendy. But time makes us settle and revert to the ways we grew up. But when you choose to change your life’s path it still gives people pause. For some reason, to sit in a room pretending to be family because that is what you do during the holidays seems to be common. Thus a fair amount of alcohol is required to muster. It comes up a fair amount in the work I do where the common question around this time is, “Do I have to go?” I have the smallest of samplings, but I am struck by how many adoptees struggle with the idea of going “home” to a place not of their choosing. The questions of loyalty, family, identity, love, tolerance and belonging come up in poignant color as they decide to go or choose another option. This conflict of choice flows too powerfully through all these different questions. For some it is absolutely insane that I would offer the option to stay in their apartment and invite friends to play. For some it is the perfect invitation to begin thinking about themselves, to begin protecting themselves, to creating a self. For some there is no choice. Of course, this is not just applicable to adopted people, but that is my world. I just notice how organic, albeit challenging, it can be for others. But for my community, it is so deeply layered. Too often I find the adoption component and the race component are the extra societal layers we keep having to work through before even getting to think about who we are and what we need. I often grapple with the notion of those personal thought vs. what is expected. Oh sure, it is easy to say, the hell with them, they can think whatever they want, but when you have grown up for decades now as the walking billboard for international adoption, societal expectations of your identity pinned on you, it is much harder to be so cavalier about what others think. The perpetual “micro-expectations” inferred in comments and questions can cut away any possibility of a tough shell. And so, what is left is “Do I have to?” rather than “What do I have?”
I ask this of myself all the time. I have had a fair amount of sister action lately, watching “Frozen” was just the culmination. One sister traveled across country and one lives an hour’s drive. As the oldest, I love mothering them especially because they let me. Our language is food so you can well imagine, delicious. There are things I cook for them that only I do and they make small requests via text for things they love, mostly of the Korean persuasion. We are not sisters related by blood. We don’t look alike, walk alike or think alike. We have made very different choices. We were adopted into the same family but we commit to choosing each other to have as sisters. We remain stalwart planets in each others orbits. Still, they are only one small part of what I call “family.”
I have had the good fortune of creating new friendships each year I am in school with my kids. And yet it is the short and sweet texts of “happy thanksgiving!” or “I went to a EF and thought of you” or “got some great deals today!” from my adoptee “sisters”, “Aunties” to my children, who make me feel at home. We don’t always get to see each other in person, but it’s easy. Love should always feel this easy.
I went to an event that celebrates adoption and foster care. One woman, who was at one time a foster child, defined family as “people related through kinship.” I liked that. I would define my family as kin too, “kindred spirits.”