Family is an interesting thing. We’re all aware that it’s not just who’s married to whom, and who shared bloodlines. It’s far more complex–and, simultaneously, simple-than that.
I’m adopted, first of all. When I was two-and-a-half years old, in the fall of 1968, I was adopted from foster care into the Olson home. I was Leonard and Leone’s only child (they’d lost a baby at birth nine years before I was born), and they were in their middle forties, and both professionals.
I hit the jackpot on families! No one could ask for more loving, more dedicated parents. I am grateful, daily, for my upbringing.
Also, I’ve been married twice.
My first marriage was ill-advised, but I deeply loved my husband, and altogether we were together ten years. Shortly after he and I began dating i n 1988, he found out he was going to be a father. The child’s mother was a high school friend of his, Beth, with whom he’d kept up a friendship, and they’d celebrated his birthday that year, resulting in an unexpected pregnancy. To make a long, long, story short, he has not been the world’s best father but I lucked out in our divorce, in 1998, and got to “keep” the kid–well, Veronica, his daughter, lived with her mother, obviously, but Beth was wonderful enough to allow me to remain in Veronica’s life. As Beth aptly put it–I still remember what she said, and how I cried for happiness–“You love her, she loves you.”
There were a few family reunions–my ex-husband’s family, mind you–that were non-traditional. I’ve stayed in contact with my former in-laws, and they’ve accepted my current husband without any problem. I do distinctly recall one summer gathering, at my in-law’s family homestead farm, where sitting together in a row on a picnic table were Veronica, Beth, me, and my now-current husband, Justin. A few distant relatives, not knowing all the ins and outs, asked how we were family; this led to very interesting answers. “Well, I used to be married to your cousin, see, and this wonderful girl is his daughter and this is her mother and his old friend. Oh, and this is my boyfriend…”
Skip forward several more years, and Veronica’s now nearly 26 years old. She lives in Sacramento, holds a Master’s Degree in public policy, and is doing great work on behalf of many people in the capital city of California. She’s brilliant, funny, creative, and everyone’s dream of a daughter, stepdaughter, or former stepdaughter. I’m honored to have her in my life, and further honored to be friends (family?) with her mother.
All this to say that while Veronica was still in junior high and high school in St. Paul, and Justin and I lived in Marshall, MN (four hours from them), our gatherings were looked forward to, and we always had the best of times with hilarious and scholarly discussions on pop culture, literature, current events, politics, childrearing, education, music, and, well, anything. Games would be played (Wizard of Bees!). We’d eat good food (well, if we visited St. Paul, that is, rather than they visiting Marshall). Libations would occur. We’d go home with our bellies hurting from the laughter.
Additionally, there was the annual KVSC Trivia Contest. Veronica has played on our team (Those Meddling Kids, then WWSD) via phone when she was young, then in person from adolescence onward. Beth now plays with us, too, though a latecomer compared with Veronica.
Since Veronica left to go to college in California in 2007, our group gatherings have been limited to summers (when she still came home, which ended a while back) and, currently, at Christmas, when Veronica still makes the trek home to Minnesota to see friends and family (and likely organize everything in sight, as she’s wont to do). While we can connect on facebook and via email and twitter all year, Justin and I very much look forward to when the four of us (now five, as Beth is partnered with Aaron, who’s a terrific addition!) can get together.
Which we did this past Friday. In the Twin Cities.
Theses were written on the implications of Breaking Bad and Fight Club. Second wave feminism butted against third wave, as it normally does in our gatherings. We spent a good forty-five minutes discussing whether “mansplaining” was appropriate or obsfucating. Knitting occurred. There were liters and liters of coffee drunk. Snacking and eating in interesting establishments happened (Longfellow Grill, Peace Cafe, Riverview Cafe and Wine Bar) . There was disagreement on The Decemberists (Veronica votes Nay, Karla votes Yay) and The Shins (Karla votes Yay, Veronica votes Meh). Presents were exchanged. Dogs were fed (and pigdogs carried…). There were hugs.
And, my God, the laughter. Open-mouthed, head back, full-throated laughter. The absolute best part of being with these people.
I love my family. And how I look forward to these Christmas get-togethers!