Family, 2015

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Drawing I did of Veronica as a child.

 

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.

Church photo a week after my adoption: Leone, Karla, Leonard Olson.  September, 1969.

Church photo a week after my adoption: Leone, Karla, Leonard Olson. September, 1969.

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.

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First husband and me, 1994, St. Cloud, MN

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Justin and me, 2007, Clear Lake, MN

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.”

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Veronica at Aunt Geeney’s house, 1992

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Veronica at her father’s and my house, St. Cloud, circa 1995

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Veronica and her father’s and my house, St. Cloud, circa 1996.

 

 

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Veronica at Twin Cities Gay Pride with her father and me, circa 1996.

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…”

Beth, Veronica, Justin, and I have vacationed together (Yay, Duluth!).  When asked, simply saying “family” supplies all the information anyone really needs.

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Brighton Beach, north of Duluth, 2006

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Veronica, Park Point (Duluth), 2006

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.

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Veronica in Germany, 2006ish.

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Veronica and friend Angela, St. Cloud Java Joint, early 2000s.

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Veronica at Mills, freshman year.

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Veronica and proud mother Beth, Graduation from St. Paul Open School, 2007.

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A favorite picture of Veronica.

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Veronica at Mills. (I’ve edited the wall message for public consumption…)

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Trivia Party, 2007, St. Cloud

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Veronica’s going-off-to-college party, George Street, St. Paul, August 2007.

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.

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Veronica, Beth, Justin

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Justin, Bindu, Veronica: St. Paul, circa 2008

 

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.

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Trivia nap…circa maybe 2008?

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Trivia, circa 2006

 

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.

Veronica and Beth, Milaca, MN, January 2012 or 2013.

Veronica and Beth, Milaca, MN, January 2012 or 2013.

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!

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Veronica and Justin, Peace Coffee, Jan. 2015

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Beth and Veronica, Peace Coffee, Jan. 2015

 

Grateful

(Crossposted from my School Blog, 11-20-12)

I love Thanksgiving. Not because of the old stories about pilgrims and Natives sitting down together, although that’s a nice story, but because I love that we set aside a day of the year to really take stock of what we have, how lucky we are, and how some of our (my?!?) complaining is, well, overdone. I think it’s a wonderful day to notice all the good things that surround us, and to tell the people in our lives how grateful we are.

First and foremost, I’m grateful for my husband. He’s also my best friend, the one person I want to share everything with, the person who always manages to make me laugh, the guy who takes care of me, my partner in all things, and the person I trust most in the world. I cannot even imagine my life without him, and I hope I never have to find out. Over fourteen years together, and it only gets better.

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I’m grateful that despite their health problems, both my parents are still alive, at age 88 and 89. I’ve been blessed to have been adopted and raised by such loving people, such generous and demanding and wonderful people. I was adopted at age two-and-a half, from foster care, and again, I hit the jackpot.

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I’m grateful for extended family…much of which might not be traditional. I’m thankful for Veronica, my stepdaughter from my first marriage, who’s the most awesome nearly-24-year-old I know. She’s going to run the world one day, starting with California.

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My family also includes my cats, present and past. I’m grateful for Ella, Frodo, Litha, Wednesday, and Muffin, and all the cuddles, scratches, surprise dead mice, and purrs they provide me.

I’m thoroughly thankful for my job, which I love. Teaching is the hardest thing I’ve ever done–and continues to be–but also the best thing I’ve ever done. It was a career change in my 30s that brought me here, and I can’t imagine doing anything else. I may tear my hair out at times, I may cry over things I cannot change, I may hate the long hours and the grading, but how lucky am I that I get paid to discuss literature? To laugh every day at the wonderful things kids say, and do? To see the world, daily, through young people’s eyes? To be part of learning, and books, and writing, and reading, and poetry, and all the things I love, for a living? Wow. I’m so very lucky. And lucky to be able to teach in an interesting place with great diversity, lots of personality, and some of the best people I’ve ever met!

While I have a host of health problems that make daily life…difficult, let’s say, I have to remember that it could always be worse. I’m alive. I’m mobile. I have good doctors, and the ability to see them and get the medications I need. As a former doctor said, I must have nine lives…and I intend to live all of them, fully. I’m thankful to be here and as healthy as I am, in spite of it all.

I’m grateful for all the good friends I have, and have had, in my life. What a wide variety of characters they are: creative, idiosyncratic, imaginative, humorous, intense, driven, aggravating, interesting, and provocative. I love this motley crew!

I’m grateful to have a nice place to live, in a nice town, with more than enough. Compared to most of the world, I live like Royalty. I’m grateful to have moved to a part of the world that agrees with me, and I’m grateful for my hundreds of trees, my backyard wildlife, and a place to call “home.”

I’m a terrifically lucky person, and I think I need more than one day a year to stand up and say “Thank you!” to all of this!