It Takes a Village

“Eat it. All of it, the spinach and tomatoes too. There’s no dessert unless you finish.”

Growing up as a picky eater, it wasn’t unusual for me to hear this while eating dinner—just at my house. No, this terrifying threat of missing out on dessert was not given to me by either of my parents, or my grandparents, or my aunt. It always came from my best friend Amelia’s mom, Mary. It worked every time, because not only was I terrified of her as a child, she’s also one of the most trusted adults in my life. If she told me to do something, I knew I should probably listen.

I spent many days after school going over to Amelia’s. Along with her two little sisters, we’d sit at the table and do our homework. Without fail, Amelia and I would always try to rush through our homework so we could go and play, but Mary wouldn’t have it. She’d tell us to sit back down and finish, just as sternly to me as to her own daughter. When we would come downstairs again for dinner, I had a job setting the table just like everyone else. At their house, I was never a “guest.” I was part of the family. 

Amelia is a year younger than me, so as we grew up and our lives got busier, we saw each other less. But I never lost touch with her or her mom. Throughout my first month of college, I texted with Mary, lamenting over how much I missed her and her cooking while she sent photos of her and her daughters’ travels. It’s not like I didn’t have plenty of “checking in” texts coming to me from my parents, too, but this was a much-needed break from the barrage of questions they had assaulted me with. Meanwhile, I had barely talked to Amelia (which was expected, since we were both insanely busy). And that was part of the beauty of this relationship, and others like it, that I’m lucky to have: my relationship with many adults in my life is independent of my friendships with their kids, or their relationship to my parents.

Two other important women in my life have come to me through their children, but unlike how Amelia and I will always be close friends, I’ve pretty much lost contact with these old friends now. However, their moms are still integral parts of my life. Whether it’s taking me shopping without their daughters, calling me to chat on my birthday, or sitting in my living room and gossiping about their work drama, I know that I have found an amazing support system in them. Even now that I’ve gone off to college, at a time where it would be easy for them to let go of my hand and leave me to figure it out on my own, they’re still here for me to rely on. Even if I don’t always take advantage of their offers of support, it’s comforting to know that they care and that if I ever need help from someone besides my parents, I can go to them.

I’ve always wondered how common these kinds of relationships are. For a while, I thought them kind of strange, but in a good way. I thought that it was a large feat to ask for these women, who have daughters of their own whose lives are completely separate from my own, to take the time to continue to care about me and put effort into our relationship even when I may not be great at doing so myself. But as I look more closely at not just my own relationships, but also those of the people around me, I realize that this kind of caring—the kind that takes an unlikely form—is not so unique at all. 

My mom still texts with friends I no longer talk to and asks Amelia to serve at all her catering events. But it’s not just this type of dynamic that makes a meaningful relationship. I spend at least one weekend a year with my mom’s best friend, my godmother. My dad’s best friend, my godfather, and his daughter FaceTime with me as often as I can squeeze them into my schedule. My confirmation sponsor still sends me birthday cards and tells me how glad he is to be in my life every time I see him, even though I now only attend church when I’m forced to. I still text with a dean from my high school (who wasn’t even my assigned dean) almost every week to share pictures or moments from college. When I look around—through my recent calls, in coffee table memory books, at who shows up for the most important moments—I realize just how large my family is. And I believe now that I am not the only person who is blessed with this. People always say that family is messy, and I think that means far more than just drama-filled. Family is messy because it isn’t straightforward. Blood has very little to do with family, I’ve learned. You can have plenty of people who share some distant relative with you that you don’t consider to be much a part of your family at all, and at the same time, the people you care about most in life can be completely unrelated to you. Just as you can choose your friends, I believe that you can choose your family, too. 

Image Credit: Feature, 1, 2, 3