September 19, 2011
Auntie Lea's Home for Wayward Orphans
Growing up, I knew some kids who lived with only one parent. I had an aunt who raised her sons with her longtime girlfriend. My parents welcomed other children into their home, constantly.
And I didn't have a whole lot of faith in the institution of marriage. My parents were happily married, extremely well matched, and genuinely in love with each other. I knew from a very young age that they were not typical.
I was used to my friends going through the divorce of their own parents.
I wasn't surprised by absentee parents, by adopted siblings, by deep dark family secrets.
I saw friends get pregnant and get into bad marriages, or not get married and raise a child on their own. Or not get married, and live happily with the father of their children for years and years, never "making it official."
I fully expected that I would never get married.
Instead, I pictured a life where I and my best friends would live together in a cabin in the woods. With our children. With a veritable rainbow of adopted children. All of us misfits, oddballs, weirdos. We wouldn't need much, just some land to work. Just a little bit of money to keep us going through the winters. We would farm, we'd keep some goats, we'd collectively home school. It was my idea of being the kind of grown-up I wanted to be.
That all changed when I met M. I, quite obviously, got married. And now we've built a family. But I haven't let go of part of that dream.
Even when I was a very little kid, I only ever wanted to be two things when I grew up- a teacher and a mommy. I loved the idea of always being surrounded by children. Of always caring for children. Of keeping my heart and my home open to any child that needed me.
My friends used to refer to my apartment as, "Auntie Lea's Home for Wayward Orphans." I was always putting up homeless teenagers and completely broke art students and musicians.
Things change. With M's diagnosis, a lot of my priorities changed. I wasn't the most important person in my future anymore. Since that day, it has never been about me. It's been about him, or us, or our family. And our family is a real, tangible thing. It's not just an idea. Not just a theoretical gaggle of children, merrily eating lentils and rice around the table before the whole family plays a game. It's actual people that I know, that I care for, that won't eat half the food I put in front of them on any given day.
And so I had let go of that dream of my gaggle of children. For the time being.
Recently, we went to a friend's wedding. And for some reason or other, I had forgotten that I am a child magnet. And a photographer snapped a bunch of pictures of me, sitting in the grass, surrounded by a gaggle of little girls.
Each time I look at those pictures, my heart breaks a little bit. Because that's always how I had pictured myself as an adult. That's the grown-up I wanted to be.
M is, as ever, stoic and practical. He keeps me grounded, reminds me that we're in no position to care for three, or four, or five more children. For now. That we need to wait until we're stable, until we're ready.
But there is something inside of me that needs to care for children. To be always kissing boo-boos, and teaching the alphabet, and singing silly songs. There's something inside of me that doesn't believe there's ever not enough to share, that there's no way to spread the soup a little farther, or squeeze in another bed. There's part of me that just wants to throw open our doors and say, "Children! Come in and be loved!"
I believe that love is like the void of space, practically endless. And each person only has a heart with which to love, a heart that they can refill over and over each time it is emptied. And there will always be more love, because no matter how many hearts fill themselves and empty themselves, if every person on earth were to spend one day only loving until their heart was empty, refilling it, and loving again, it wouldn't pull the ends of that space one inch closer. There is always room in my heart to love one more person. One more friend, one more child, one more memory.
I will never be able to exhaust my ability to love. Of that, I am nearly certain. And love is the most important thing that any person, and particularly, any child needs.
I'm holding back... for now. While M is in school, while I'm in school, while things are so chaotic and stressful. But once we're through, once we're down to only doing four hundred things at once...
Someday I'm going to open those doors. Let the lost children inside. Feed them a nice big meal. And tuck them into bed with a kiss goodnight.
Someday my home will feel like one big community of people, helping and caring and growing together.
Someday I'll get to watch my children playing together, learning from each other, and becoming more and more shaped by each other than by me.
Many thanks to the friends and family of the Streeters for these pictures.