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These days, the term family has morphed into a larger circle. Or perhaps to be more accurate, the concept of family has been enlarged to include smaller circles of people who have no blood or marital relation to each other.

Why? Why are we are we venturing out and cherry-picking family members, instead of simply being satisfied with the family we were saddled with born or married into? Why are we calling people our work family and our writing family and our neighborhood family?

Necessity. These days, our true family members are scattered. Our real families are sometimes fractured and sometimes dysfunctional. To get the support and joy we need, like making something out of Lego, we have to build our own family, one brick at a time.

This holiday season, a few things happened that made me reflect on what family is to me. First, a group of teacher-writer friends got together at El Toro for our annual holiday party. If you've never heard of El Toro, that's not surprising, since it's a teacher-friend's lower-level bar set up in his home. 

Rob--a high school teacher and also a stand-up comedian--hosted the gala affair. Do the math: 140+ bottles of various alcoholic offerings. Seven or so stressed-out and so-ready-for-a-break teachers. Some  crockpot chili. Some killer artichoke dip. Some hideous white elephant gifts. Lots of fast-paced conversation and lots of laughter.

Also lots of instances of getting it. Instantly getting each other's moods and struggles and successes without hours of explanation.

This is what I was thrilled to get from our white elephant exchange:

Yes, it's a real and spectacular Jack Daniel styrofoam statue. I was worried when I chose a low number, because that meant somebody with a bigger number could steal it. It was still wrapped in a couple of trash bags, and was about 3 feet tall. One of the teachers there shook her head and said, "Nobody  is gonna steal that," she said laughingly. They'll be sorry. Jack is going to be transformed into Mark Twain, and will have a prominent spot in my classroom.

Before my school began its holiday break, we had a gathering at a local restaurant. I sat book-ended by a couple of teachers who never had a negative thing to say (or so I thought). I served up some snark... and they returned some. It was relaxing and rejuvenating and reminded me of why I love where I work.

Finally, on Christmas Eve I got together with my actual family. In-laws. My daughter and her family. I learned I should never buy anything Bob Ross again (check out the documentary--Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal and Greed). I learned that dried-out leather meat is not always on the menu. (The fish was succulent and delicious.) I also learned that real family is sometimes really great. 

                                                                    Virginia's gift to me

When I opened the above gift (from my daughter), I laughed. When everyone else saw what it was, they were confused. They haven't read my book--not interested in it, I guess. They looked at my daughter and me for an explanation.

"It's an inside joke," Virginia said, and she's right. It's inside all the circles of people who get me. I'm working on a screenplay... I envision my book being made into a movie... People who know me know that.

Crosby, Stills and Nash sang a song with the lyrics/title "Love the one you're with."  Surround yourself with people who love you and get you. Make sure the people who are around you give you joy, along with everything else you need, because you just might need it in 2022...

May the next year be the year for you.

Sioux Roslawski is a a middle-school teacher, a freelance writer and a novelist. Check out her book (Greenwood Gone: Henry's Story) on Amazon.


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