OPINION | April Wallace: Gaining family members can be uncomplicated when you choose them yourself

Some connections stronger than blood

One of the things I love about the holidays is being surrounded by other generations and family members in a different phase of life.

Seeing others' situations and struggles doesn't necessarily take away the freshness of my own conundrums, but it does give me some much needed perspective. Everything is temporary, nothing will stay the same.

On my recent return to my hometown of Rose Bud, we sat squeezed around the various tables with college students just forging their paths and cousins in the early phases of their careers, as well as family friends who just retired and some who are about to. My parents, who are quickly approaching 20 years of retirement are well into their post-job life.

There were siblings whose kids are grown, others whose children are in middle grades and then ours, two of which just started their school journey. And together we fit in a lot of life stuff in a short span of time.

We laid flowers on my nephew's grave; we cried and laughed as we talked, musing that he must be so bored if he's looking down and watching us now, since he had a much more interesting approach to most things than any of us. Then we cried happy tears when another nephew announced that he and his wife will have a baby in the spring.

We held cousin's babies and tried to entertain the toddlers in a house that was definitely not baby proofed. My kids watched my mom dress my dad's wounds and learned how he eats with a feeding tube. We made way too much food for the rest of us and fought over who would be stuck with it.

We also celebrated Grandma Joan's 90th birthday.

Growing up, I was surrounded by kids who lived close to their grandparents and visited them often. Of my own grandmothers, one loved me dearly but died when I was very young. The other doted on me when I was little, but quickly lost interest as I grew up.

Luckily for me Grandma Joan and my mom became friends kind of by accident decades ago.

She is not in my biological family, but she has always claimed me. Joan was adopted herself, and has never felt like our non-blood ties had any bearing on our relationship, which started before I was born.

She prayed for my mother's ability to carry me throughout pregnancy, which was high risk due to my mom's diagnosis of kidney disease.

Because of that successful pregnancy and safe delivery, Joan has always kind of seen me as a bit of a miracle and treated me as such, with a center-of-the-world attention. If there's one thing that makes kids feel loved, it's that. That's what a grandma does.

Joan has always been on mine and my mother's side.

When my mom got her master's, her own mom and siblings teased her for getting extra education that they didn't see the need for. But seated next to me in the audience watching her cross the stage was Joan. There was no one prouder that day.

When I would struggle with a class or choice of roommate or an ill-fitting job, she'd be the first to wonder if I needed any of them. But then true to form, she'd back me up if I was going to stick it out.

Of all the things we did in the past week, surprising Joan at her 90th birthday party to celebrate her with my family was my favorite.

Joan had a lot of guests to visit with, but she took her time with each person. In the process I overheard her tell someone I'm one of her granddaughters.

That we found and forged our own little family will never fail to surprise and delight me.

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