"Family" is not limited to those to whom you are related by blood; instead it extends to include those with whom you share such a close relationship that the word "friendship" does not suffice. I learned this growing up and still believe in it.
When I was eight, my parents decided to divorce. (For the sake of accuracy, let me correct that last statement. My mother decided to divorce my dad. My dad went along with it.) After the divorce, my parents were busy dealing with their own pain; they hardly had time to notice mine. (Maybe my mother did but I know for a fact that my father didn't. He and Korbel brandy had become intimate friends by that time. I stopped visiting him on a regular basis around age 12.) Thankfully my parents had these best friends who lived a few houses away. I came to call them "my real parents."
My real parents were everything that my parents weren't. First of all, they were still married. Mom came home every night and cooked dinner. After the divorce, my mother had stopped cooking on a regular basis. She often ate a big lunch and wasn't hungry at dinnertime. When we'd get home, she turn to me and say, "I'm not hungry and I don't feel like cooking. You should call your mother." I would. Mom upon hearing me asking what was for dinner would answer, "We're having spaghetti (or whatever dish) tonight. It will be ready in a half hour. See you then." It didn't hurt that Mom was a wonderful cook.
Mom and Dad moved in down the street when I was six. At the time they had one son. By the time I started high school they had three boys and had decided to stop having children. They had kept on trying because they wanted a girl. I got to be the daughter that they had always wanted. In fact, Dad still introduces me to people as his daughter to this day.
When I turned 15, I was anxious to start driving -- legally that is. My first driving lesson was actually at age 13. I had hopped into my father's car to start it. He climbed into the passenger seat and said, "Drive." I ended up bending the front axel when I hit a curb trying to park. My mother thought it was hilarious. I was terrified to get behind the wheel of a car for a long time after that but also relished the freedom that driving could give me. The first time I went out to practice with my mother ended with my mother screaming and me near tears. That's when Dad stepped in. He calmly taught me how to drive. I still remember him pulling the plastic garbage cans out onto the street so that I could learn how to parallel park.
Then there was age 17. This is an incidence of which I rarely speak. That was the year I was a deb. A few days before the ball, I found out that there was a great possibility that my father would not be able to present me. (He hadn't done the community service on his DUI or something like that so there was a warrant out on him.) I was devastated. That's when Dad stepped in. He told me that I shouldn't worry. If all else failed, he would present me. My father somehow eluded jail that weekend and was there to present me. That reminds me; I should ask him how he pulled that off. I never have.
At 19 I returned home from college for the summer. I was working fulltime and discovering the underground club scene in San Francisco. I dreamed of heading to New York so that I could check out places like Limelight. One night my mother told me that I couldn't go out. I figured I was an adult and snuck out of the house. (I know -- sneaking is so not being an adult.) When I returned home, she threw me out. I ended up living with Mom and Dad for the rest of the summer before returning to college. In that time I saw my mother once. I did not see her again until Winter Break.
Last weekend I went to my stepmother's birthday party. I caught a ride with Mom and Dad. I figured that as I was not driving, I could have a few drinks. I forgot that I really hadn't eaten all day. Now I have keys to Mom and Dad's house as well as a standing dinner engagement. I told Gloria that I suddenly feel like I'm in the Gilmore Girls.
Sunday I didn't go on a long drive. Instead I tried out my new DVD recorder. (Why have DVR if you can't keep the stuff for eternity?) By the time I finished with that, it was time to head over for my weekly obligation. Mom had defrosted all kinds of stuff. She had cooked rice, fresh corn on the cob, broccoli, two kinds of fish, chicken, and ribs. Dad is retiring at the end of the month so I went to work on his laptop moving files that he wants to keep. In the process, I showed their granddaughter who lives with them a few tricks on the computer. (Last school year I tutored her in math. Now she thinks math is great.) At the end of the evening, I went home with a full stomach and a fuller wallet. I tried to turn down the money but they insisted that they would have paid anyone else to work on their computers. In fact they did in the past and after looking over the computers, the guy didn't do half the stuff that he should have.
So family to me is a feeling you get -- of being safe, of someone caring. It doesn't matter if the person is related to you or not.
(By the way, I know this is probably much more serious than my usual posts. It's just the kind of mood I've been in lately. Bear with me.)