Finding Our ‘Ohana

How many times have you taken a family photo? I’m guessing many of you have. Now how many of you have taken a family photo and when you look at it, you think of how many times it took to get everyone looking and smiling at the same time? Or maybe there were other circumstances and hurdles that stood in your way and by golly you were determined that family photo was going to happen because of the hours spent coordinating outfits, styling hair, polishing nails, all the while trying not to break a sweat and ruin your makeup.  

While many of us can relate to the hustle that happens before a family photo, can you imagine what it was like in the 1800’s? Granted they may have not had to worry about matching clothes or makeup, but trying to get everyone to sit still long enough for the shutter to open and close? 

While in today’s culture family has become a more diverse image, there are still times when I think many of us have found ourselves trying to strike a balance between reality and family perfection whether it is for a family photo or in something we had scripted out in our mind.

I’m not sure about you, but over the years my perception of family has evolved through the loss of extended family, but we have unexpectedly received the gift of friends who have turned into our family. 

Losing the Unexpected

In the last 19 years, I’ve learned one big lesson family doesn’t mean forever. Sounds harsh? Maybe, but honestly, it’s what I’ve experienced and whether I like it or not, it’s the truth. However, through the experiences I have had, I believe I have found a silver lining.

I have fond childhood memories growing up with extended family that I haven’t seen in about 15 years. We used to drive to my grandmas to see family from out of town during the summer. We would spend afternoons running errands, shopping, and having lunch at the cutest cafes. We’d then finish the day off at a local coffee shop. I remember vividly my mom driving us home late on those summer nights with my sister listening to the oldie’s music in her mustang. Little did I know that these cherished moments were numbered and if anyone would have tried to tell me they would one day come to an end. I wouldn’t have believed them.

I’d love to say I have only lost part of my extended family over the past 19 years, but that statement, unfortunately, would be untrue as well. I could share story after story of how our family has parted ways over the years, but I think it’s more important to share where our extended family has been found.

Finding our ‘Ohana

So often in our lives, we can find ourselves puzzled as to why things occur.  If you’re a person of faith, you may pray about the situation, ask for understanding or acceptance and sometimes things come to fruition quickly and sometimes it’s not until years later when you get the opportunity to see the whole picture.

Just before Aaron and I got married, we decided to look for a house. We knew it was going to need to be something small and affordable as he was starting his first year at his job out of college and I was in my senior year student teaching full-time with no time left for a part-time job.

One day, my girlfriend and I decided to drive around her side of town, known as the West Side of Cincinnati. As we circled up and down the streets, we spotted an adorable red brick cape cod with bay windows on either side of the green front door that was outlined with this beautiful white wood trim and was complete with two dormer windows and a slate roof. It was perfect. So perfect I asked Aaron to come see it, and wouldn’t you know we loved it. It felt so right to us, we used the relator who showed us the house and didn’t even bother looking at any other homes.  

Unbeknownst to us, we weren’t just buying our first home. We were about gain a street full of family who we still refer lovingly to as our “Marydell Family.” This new family of ours helped with late night calls for help with a broken toilet, celebrated festivals, and parades together, gathered for pub crawls to support causes, bowled together in a league in town, and grieved together when we lost a fellow neighbor unexpectedly. Looking back though, some of my most favorite times together were our end of the day conversations in the middle of the street. One-by-one our neighbors would arrive home from work and the group and conversation grew bigger-this was a huge blessing to us both then and now.

Our Marydell family taught us to step out of our comfort zone, appreciate and learn from one another, how to have fun, be spontaneous and most importantly how to be a better friend.  We had no idea how our two years, that felt like 10, there on that street would be the reason for future friendships that would unfold in the communities we would find ourselves in.

After Marydell, we built a home in a community closer to our parents knowing we would soon want to start a family. We were one of the first homes built on our street and we watched as our neighbors’ homes were built and moved into one-by-one over the first couple of years. With a little time and some friendly hello’s, our next-door neighbors grew to become our family. Some days our small chit chat turned into sidewalk conversations that lasted past dark. They were the ones that would run into your house and take care of your child while you’re taking care of the other. They would get our kids off the bus, so I didn’t have to bring our then baby, out into the heat and I never felt judged even when I was at my worst. It was in this community that I found an additional sister and forever friend. 

While living there, I asked our twins, who were five at the time, at dinner one night if they could name all our family. Knowing of all the estranged family members they didn’t know; I was curious to see how big or small our family was to them. To my surprise their list was long and wasn’t exclusive to those who were blood related relatives.  It was in that moment I realized our children, though young, understood the meaning of family and not by its definition of meaning “all the descendants of a common ancestor” but by the meaning of how those people made them feel and how much they meant to them each.  

With such clarity in their response, it has since helped me to move forward with a better understanding of what family is or can be and that we don’t have to choose to live by a definition but rather live by how those in our lives make us feel.

Redefining Family

Since then, I have also come to find a little bit more of an understanding of the generations who have come before mine. I recognize the times of being raised in families were much different in the early to mid-1900’s. I also recognize children often become the products of their parents/family, while some family leave only etchings that can we overcome others can create deep scares that hinders the ability to rewrite what has been engrained.

Though I wish the current relationships of my extended family could still be more like the highlights from when I was a child, I have also learned how there comes a time when boundaries need to be set in effort to grow healthier relationships and sometimes those boundaries allow relationships to flourish while unfortunately, sometimes they do not. 

The word boundaries may come off as somewhat of a strong term, but I think until you have found yourself in a position where you find yourself equip and longing to find resolve in the past and a desire for a healthier emotional future for not only yourself, but for all the current relationships you hold, the term is one in which gives you clear direction and strength.

While adopting family over the years was never something I anticipated to continue until day, out here in the middle, I find myself extremely grateful for those who have brought us into the folds of their own families. It’s my hope that our children will continue to hold on to their understanding of family. That they will keep in mind that family can be found where we least expect it.  That family isn’t quick to judge or make assumptions; they communicate earnestly and listen intently, and that family isn’t any form of competition, rather family is accommodative. They have seen it firsthand and on numerous occasions, but I hope our children will remember that family steps in not just when it’s convenient. They step in even if it means dropping what they’re in the middle of doing. Lastly, I hope they learn over their childhood that there will be difficult times with family, and no different than other relationships, they take work.

Have you ever taken time to think about those in your life who you consider family or what family means to you? I hope over this week, you will find some time to reflect on your family and what it means to you. And if you haven’t done so recently, reached out and let them know how much they mean to you.



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