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Monday, August 8, 2011

Friends, Siblings, Countrymen

Who is your family? What does "family" mean to you?

Counselling in the family-building industry has taught me that genetic ties are only one kind of kinship. We see clients who are close with their parents and siblings and are desperate to create a family with genetic links. We also see people who are completely estranged from their biological families and are completely unconcerned with having biological ties to their children. Adoption, egg donation and sperm donation are common scenarios.

So family can mean blood or it can mean emotional ties that we build. But this is a lesson I've learned in my own life too.

This past weekend was fabulous. My mom was visiting, because like every summer, my dad is in Cambridge, England for a few months collaborating on various academic projects with a long-time friend and colleague at the university there.

Saturday we went to my brother's house for dinner and had a great time while the kids played together.

I love that the girls have so many cousins nearby. They adore my brother's kids as well as Adam's sister's daughter who also lives in Toronto, and his brother's son (who unfortunately live in Vancouver).

My kids are so fortunate to be able to see some of their wonderful cousins on a regular basis. This is a privelege that my brother and I never had growing up. My parents came to Canada with my brother a few years before I was born, leaving their entire extended family scattered across New York state, and on my dad's side, in Los Angeles.

We were lucky to see many of them once a year.

Nevertheless, I consider myself extremely fortunate because we grew up as part of an incredible, tight-knit community in Kingston, the small city where my parents still live, who, for all-intents-and-purposes are like family to us.

Yesterday afternoon, my friend Sheri, who is one of the most loyal, sincere, and generous persons I know, came by with her two boys. I have only known Sheri for about 12 years, but I feel like she is virtually family too (we met at a gym I used to work at while running beside one another on treadmills). When she moved to a house a 10 minute walk from ours a few years ago, I was over-joyed. In a city the size of Toronto, one doesn't always get so lucky.

I am also still very close with friends I have known since I was a baby. These friendships are so incredibly special to me. Even when we haven't seen each other for months, when we do get together, it's like no time has passed.

Yesterday evening, my friend Jess, who I have known since grade 2, hosted a BBQ at her house because my friend Em is visiting with her family from Vancouver. Even though Jess lives in Toronto, we don't see each other as often as we would like because we live across the city from each other, and when you have kids and busy lives this is enough to make it difficult to connect. Yet when we do get together, we always have a great time and Big A and her daughter, who is 6 months older, play together beautifully.

Em, who I have known since kindergarten, I see maybe once or twice a year, but that doesn't matter, she will ALWAYS be one of my best friends. She brought her whole brood to Toronto and we got to meet her 11 month old daughter for the first time, and see how much her 4 year old son had grown.

How cool is it that I got to sit and visit with special friends last night, while our children played together having a fabulous time like we used to do when we were their age?

As a kid I always wanted a sister. Now I feel like I have many sisters. Friends of mine like Em and Jess, who I have known most of my life, and people like my 3 amazing sister-in-laws (Adam's sister, my brother's wife, and Adam's brother's wife). Does it matter that none of them are biologically my sister? Of course not!

So I am doubly blessed. I have a wonderful extended biological family AND a huge extended non-biological family. I try to keep this in mind when the girls fight, which lately is all the time. I desperately want them to grow up to be close friends, but the reality is, that may not happen. Their personalities may clash or circumstances might interfere, like they may find themselves living half a world apart. I only hope that if theirs is not a tie that binds, hopefully they will have others to fill that role - their cousins or closest friends. I hope that they are as lucky as I am.