OHBD 2015

OHBD 2015

Saturday, May 5, 2012

What Makes Family: Sisterhood of Friends (and Mothers)

Even before we adopted our daughter, I experienced family that didn't share my DNA.  I believe, for women in particular, there are friends who become so much more that only "family" can truly capture the essence of the relationship. I visited one of my "sisters" this summer. In many ways, our lives are so very different. First, there is the locale.  She lives in Utrecht in the Netherlands and I live in Seattle, Washington in the United States. She has four boys under the age of 10. I have three kids spread out – now 15, 11 and  almost 4 -- two boys and a girl. She specialized in third world development and planning, going to places and impacting issues I only approach intellectually. I have been a lawyer, and most recently a business person, in the corporate world where basic human needs take a back seat to profit and customer objectives.

We have known each other for more than two decades.  (I wonder when I will get used to using this type of reference. Anything with a decade included makes me feel old or like I am becoming my parents-- but I digress.) I met her because she was dating a friend of my cousin.  I had dropped out of college when my pre-med studies were not going as planned and moved to Europe to sort out my life. We enjoyed getting to know each other.  But I am not sure I would have guessed then how our connection would root and grow. She was a few years younger than me and still in high school.  We bonded over the joy of being together and issues common to your late teens and early twenties.

We stayed in touch through many changes and the new issues that dominated each period.  We moved through various relationships and professional pursuits. One time, she came and visited me with her sister and few friends when I was first married in Chicago.  Having never been to the United States, they were most intrigued to visit the American South including Nashville and New Orleans -- this is part of the magic of Cindy.  She comes at life from such a unique and interesting vantage point. We are pictured below with Michael – how young we all look. She also completely showed me up as she danced in the wee hours at my second wedding (I am a bad dancer or as I like to think an "entertaining one" and in this case there are pictures as proof) in Thessaloniki to my first husband (a story for another post).

We became even closer as we shared the experience of motherhood. She came with her first new baby in tow (and unbeknownst to all of us also pregnant with baby #2) to the baptism of my second son on the island of Patras in Greece. Many times we missed each other’s life events of births, key birthdays and celebrations because she was in a far flung part of the world working to make a true difference with clean drinking water or health education or I had professional and personal obligations that conflicted.  But our relationship helped me truly understand that "good enough" can be "good."  We took whatever small opportunities we had to connect whether by phone, email, facebook or the cherished in person visit. I make a point to see her if I am in Europe even if it is for a day – either by myself, with one of my children or with the whole family. Below are pictures from a couple of those visits.  No matter how long it has been since we touched base, I feel the continuity of our connection.

When we got together this July, it had been five years since both families were included in the fun. A lot changed. . we each had a new little one – hers two and mine three. But much was the same. We can still just pick up where we last left off. It is so easy and comfortable. We talk about anything and are comfortable being together in silence too. She has a depth and wisdom that makes me want to be better. And nothing seems to faze her for long. She had four difficult pregnancies, various health and job concerns and still -- she is consistently one of the most upbeat and positive people I know.   She inspires me to positively persevere when I hit my own life speed bumps like medical or job concerns.  Just thinking about her brings a smile to my face and peace in my heart.

The kids play like cousins – also completely at ease with each other despite their limited physical contact and language challenges.  We laugh because her blond children look like they should be mine and my dark haired ones more resemble her.  Given her abiding love of Africa, we enjoy the irony that I am the one to have a child who was born there. My kids must have picked up on our relationship because my three year old asked if she was, “Auntie Cindy?” And separately, my then ten year old son asked if Cindy was my sister. I love both questions because they reflect what I feel in my being.  The answer to both is a resounding “Yes, in all the ways that count.”

We spent the week in a duplicated row house across from Cindy’s family home with the spiral staircases that uniquely challenged my 6'2' husband. Seven kids and four adults was just too much for one small three story Dutch abode. We shared amazing home cooked meals Cindy prepared which reflected the diversity of her experience in Africa, India and Indonesia.   And we found so many reasons to laugh, from the accented words spoken by all in tongues unfamiliar to them, to inside jokes and memories that seems to naturally await to surprise and delight around each turn. We revisited a small restaurant on the canals where Cindy and I share one of our most memorable experiences. Cindy and my eldest are pictured enjoying a more relaxing experience this time.

Then I was visiting with my 18 month old  Damian.  Cindy’s eldest was about one year. We were sharing a morning coffee with babies in strollers, completely engrossed in our conversation. The waiter approached with a worried look and asked if I was missing anything because a man had been bending down behind my son’s stroller. I checked and sure enough my wallet was gone. Cindy sprung into action and ran in the direction the waiter indicated for the fleeing pick pocket. Amazingly within moments, that seemed an eternity at that time, she returned proudly waving my black purse in her hand wearing a satisfied grin. 

I asked her what transpired. She said she caught up to the man and yelled, “Give me back the wallet or I’ll kill you.” She surmised that the fact that she was still speaking English to the Dutch thief in addition to the threat was too much. He hurled my precious belonging directly at her and sped off the opposite way. One thing you must know about Cindy to fully appreciate this story is that she is almost always well put together in a dress and heels.  This day was no exception.  She sprinted like a heroine in an action movie -- the one where you think, "No one dressed like that could or would be moving that quickly or easily."

Cindy is my family through years of shared experiences including amazing joy and devastating sorrow as well as a depth of love and understanding that words are completely inadequate to capture.  She and I share a sisterhood of friends and now mothers – one I learn to cherish more with each passing year. 


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