“It takes a village…” I feel that my partner and I have created our own village, or at least a hamlet or a cul-de-sac. There are six parents raising six children of various relations. At special occasions, we add in grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins and we truly end up with the population of a small village.
To explain: when we adopted our son his agency file included a letter. He has an older brother adopted to another family and they’d like the brothers to maintain contact. When we met, it was incredible – these two little boys, 2 and 1 at the time, seemed to sense a connection between them. Because they looked alike and recognized something in one another? Because they just knew somehow, in some unique, inherent bond? Or because we were reading way too much into it? They played together and shared toys and snacks (something they’d never done with any other kids).
And it’s wonderful. There are so many similarities, it is uncanny. And the differences – the brother has two moms, as it turns out; they are a different religion – only enrich our lives. “My brother has the same lips as me,” my son told me not too long ago. “The same hair and the same skin color too, but we don’t have the same clothes or live in the same house.” All true, and very apt of him to summarize it that way. Not too many questions yet – that’s just the way it is.
Fast forward a few years to the adoption of our daughter. She also has an older brother who lives in our city. We indicated our desire to meet and again we were delighted. A wonderful boy, the same age as our son, so those two hit it off immediately. In fact, we all got along right away. The best part of these extended family connections is that we genuinely like everyone. There’s no sense of obligation when we get together, but of enjoyment.
And so our son and daughter each have a biological brother (who in turn each have a sibling in their adoptive families as well). It’s important that they know each other, that they have a blood connection and can grow up together. Will they be as curious when they get older to discover more about their parents? I’m sure. But I’m curious to know if they’ll not feel as displaced, abandoned or alone in their journey of discovery because they have each other.
The kids will always have their shared history. As parents we have each other too; we’re brought together by the shared backgrounds of the various siblings. And I like that there are so many people willing to look out for all these tykes.
Our daughter’s brother recently asked if our son is his brother-in-law. Well, technically, in a way, as they’re brought together legally through family court. But what do we all call each other? “My son’s brother’s brother” is a bit odd for people to grasp quickly, and “my daughter’s brother’s mom” is too long. “Adoptive family” is clunky. “Uncle” is not quite accurate. One suggestion is “bonus family,” which is true: an unintended, but positive and welcome consequence of our adoptions, though we often have to explain what it means.
But I feel that we now have the perfect term: no adjective, modifier or qualifier. What are we? Family. Plain and simple. It reminds me of what queers have been doing for many years: building a community of love and support, be it family members or close friends, and defining our notions of family for ourselves.