I remember making potato stamps on the kitchen floor; newspaper and paint everywhere.
I remember a blue Volvo station wagon, the trunk full of art supplies.
I remember fabric flowing from shoulders to ankles.
And I remember a laugh of pure love and joy.
The memories of a small child may not be precise, but my life is built upon them.
A very dear friend passed away last week. She was, for all intents and purposes, family. Chosen family, but dear nonetheless.
I was lucky enough to grow up among a community of remarkable women, all friends of my mother’s. They became a chosen family for me.
Each of them has been a sort of surrogate mother to me during different points in my life, depending on what support I needed at the time.
Priscilla was the unicorn of the bunch, in the best way. She was the artist, the spiritualist, the counterculture free spirit. She broadened my understanding of who I could be and how I could express myself in the world. She never stopped creating, and her eternal optimism was unparalleled in my experience. She was and is unlike anyone I have ever known.
Her unique persona was the only such role model in my young life. As I became an adult, at times when I questioned myself and my choices, her ear and perspective were unique among my mentors. Her profound belief in me was a salve when I felt battered by life.
Nobody is perfect. But every young person needs role models to show what is possible in life. Priscilla had an inspiring vivacity that seemed to transcend any situation.
Each woman in my mother’s circle modeled a different, valuable lesson for me.
Every woman in the circle has at least one daughter, and we all grew up together; an extended family of sorts. Over 40-plus years, this random group of friends became a community of women who love and support each other across time and distance. Some of us see each other more often than others, but our chosen family comes together for a weekend at least once each year to share food and companionship, hugs and tears.
This chosen family community bound by love and compounded by time is a gift and one I long to provide for my own children.
As a solo mom with two sons, the scene of our family and community is slightly different from what I grew up with. I know our connection is strong and that I’m providing the best model I can for them. I know that they’re learning important lessons from their dad’s modeling as well.
However, as evidenced by my own life, I believe kids need a broader scope of connection to adults who are not their parents.
My boys do have other adult role models in their lives: aunts and uncles on both sides. But given family is different than chosen family, and I’d like my kids to experience both.
Part of my challenge is time; the pace of life is much faster now than it was in my childhood. Add to this that families and lifestyles have changed as well. Logistically, most of us are working, some of us are solo parents, many young families move around frequently and stress levels are higher than they have ever been.
So, I’m cutting myself some slack. We connect with friends and their kids when we can, mostly on the fly. Recently, in a rare moment of inspiration, a friend and I spontaneously decided to travel with our kids to the Dominican Republic over break. How that came together was a miracle, one my kids won’t forget. But connections don’t need to be made on the scale of an overseas adventure, they just need to be made consistently.
I remember how many years and decades it took for my dear circle of women to evolve into a chosen family. I can already see the beginnings of such an evolution in our lives now; families with whom we’ll remain connected even though the kids may be at different schools, because of our shared values and genuine love for each other.
I know how much it helps moms to connect and support each other.
When I take the time to talk with friends about their parenting challenges, I’m always reminded that I’m not alone and that my kids are going through normal developmental stages. The concept of a chosen family is as much for me as a mom as it is for my boys; as I’m sure it was for my own mother when we kids were making potato stamps on the kitchen floor.
I’ll continue to be grateful for the chosen family of women my mom gathered and to cherish the unique gifts each of them has brought into my life. And I’ll trust that my chosen family of friends will continue to evolve and become more cohesive. The recent loss has elevated this on my scale of priorities, in honor of Priscilla and with a heartfelt wish for my children.