Yesterday I attended a birthday party for a very dear little friend. Although the big day isn't actually until Wednesday, we celebrated the first birthday of Riley, the granddaughter of the Loved One, who although we no longer share the same space, is still very much cared for and loved in our hearts.
As first birthday parties go, it was fairly typical--crowded with adults and toddlers, lots of pink everywhere, and plenty of food. The birthday girl was rather uninterested in most of the proceedings. She needed a nap and the house was pretty crowded with lots of people making lots of noise. Still, when Dear Daughter and I came through the door, she laughed and toddled forward and relieved us of the bag we were carrying. It had bunnies on it, and she had a good time dragging it behind her.
The Loved One is back in Alaska, working, so it was somewhat awkward for us. This was our first encounter with his family since moving out. Naturally, there was a bit of confusion about how to introduce me to people ("This is Riley's dad's father's um, girlfriend, no, wait, um, ex-....ah. well,...um"). I just shook hands and said "Just call me Lalah. Riley does."
For the record, the guest list included the following: Riley's mother, Riley's father, Riley's father's new girlfriend (who is expecting in June). Riley's father's new girlfriend's dad (and his boyfriend), me (aka-Riley's father's dad's ex-girlfriend), Riley's grandmother (my ex-boyfriend's ex-wife), Riley's dad's stepfather, Riley's maternal grandmother, Riley's maternal grandfather (her grandmother's ex-husband), and Riley's mother's new ex-boyfriend.
Relationships and family used to be so simple. Contrary to appearances, I miss those days when parents and children all had the same last name and all lived in the same house, and at the same time. Actually, I know more couples and families for whom this is still true than not. I admire them and sometimes even have a little envy for them. I'm not good at this relationship thing. I try. I hope. I am always optimistic, but so far my average is pretty lousy.
Since Dear Daughter appeared in my life 12 years ago, I've kept a pretty stiff upper lip about it. She's had lots of questions about our family and why it's just the two of us, and I've always tried to answer them honestly and carefully. It hasn't been easy and we've both shed a few tears over the years about this.
Throughout it all, I've maintained the same position though. Family is blood, but it's also much more. We have so many wonderful friends who have, over the years, become very real extensions of our family. Luckily, we've discovered, family is so much more than just those with whom you share blood and DNA. It's the people who you co-op meals with, barter your hand-me-downs and extraneous furniture, you sing with them in church, you hold hands with at funerals, they yell at your kids, you pick up after theirs. You carpool with them, exchange recipes, crash on their couch, disagree with them about politics. You love them, you worry about them, they shake their heads silently over your latest relationship debacle.
For a while at the party I carried Riley around in my arms. I love that girl so much. She's so tiny and precious, and when she looks up at me and raises her hands for me to pick her up my heart almost bursts. We don't share anything except we're both hitching a ride on the same planet for a while. Still, she's my family, and that won't change, no matter what.