The Family You Choose

I am fresh off a week's vacation in rural Vermont.  Every summer for however many years, my family has joined three or four other families for a little something we like to call "Rockababy."  I first wrote about our communal vacations here.  The core group was formed way back in the 1980s among friends at the New England high school they attended.  I am a happy addition through marriage.

My own family didn't really take summer vacations.  We would have the occasional trip to Janesville, Wisconsin for a couple of days at the Holiday Inn with the pool.  There was the St. Louis trip when I was four where I oddly remember getting to sit in the "toilet seat" while riding to the top of the Gateway Arch.  And there was the grand family vacation, our only one really, where six of us crammed into an RV and toured the western United States. That trip was at turns perfect and a disaster (just like family), but I have very fond memories of it (just like family).

This last week, surrounded by good friends, I spent most of every day in bed, as I was diagnosed with pneumonia mid-trip.  In a lot of ways that sucked, but in a lot of other ways, the perfect time for a mom to get pneumonia is when she's on vacation with seven other capable parents. What sucked worse was the lack of wifi.  No Internet while stuck in bed for a week.  Yeah, that really sucked.

I spent more than a few hours streaming episodes of The Sopranos on my iPhone, feeling nostalgic after news of James Gandolfini's death.  It is fairly unsatisfying to watch that quality of television on a screen the size of your palm, but desperate times call for desperate measures, right?  And when you're sick, you're sick.  So, there we were, me and Tony, hanging out, getting reacquainted after all those years.

Sopranos Family

That's when it struck me.

There's the family we're born into, and then, if we're lucky, there's the family we choose.  Tony Soprano had his chosen family, and I was surrounded by my chosen family.  Ha!  The juxtoposition between these two chosen families makes me giggle, as this New England crew could not be more different than Tony's Jersey crew.

The toughest person in my chosen family would be a toss up, but definitely a woman.  It might be S., the high school teacher who spends her summers working on a Fulbright extension program, touring Pakistani students through New England.  Or M., the biochemist working to find a cure for cancer. Possibly A., whom I always lovingly refer to as the "Martha Stewart of Iowa," who had the guts to bring her two young daughters into the rain forests of Suriname (it's okay, I had to check it on a map, too) for this year's spring break.

Yeah, Paulie Walnuts ain't got nothin' on these broads.

One of the beautiful gifts my husband has given me are the long maintained childhood friendships he nurtures.  I remember in our wedding vows, I wrote that I would work to cultivate our "mutual community," not quite knowing what that might look like, but wanting it still the same.  Relationships take work. Family relationships, too.  Chosen families are no different.

My chosen family.

My chosen family.  Photo courtesy of Anne L. Geissinger

Each year we make the effort to reconnect.  Even if there is minimal contact throughout the months, we know that once a year we will come together, watch our children play in the sunlight and rain, eat 21 cooked meals together, fall deeply into whatever sofas we are near after the kids go to sleep, gorge on chocolate and sweets, and catch up, reconnect.  We have seen each other through illness, death, grief, loss of jobs, depressions, and on and on.  We like one another.

I am grateful for these folks who have come to be my friends even though they started as my husband's friends.  I am lucky these folks have picked such fantastic life mates.  I am happy to think of them as extended family, my chosen family.

Maybe a bit like Tony thought of his chosen family.  With less whacking.  And fewer stripper poles.

If you are part of this family, thanks for taking such good care of me this past week.  This is my ode to you.  And if you want to subscribe to these posts of mine, well here's how:

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