Although it was just evening the sky was already black. January may not be cold in Florida but it is dark. The earth facing away from the sun creates cold in some places and more darkness everywhere. I watched her walk away, lanyard around her neck, scrunchie on her wrist, long hair in french braids. Gracie B, off to her new home, Flamingo Crossings, the residence of all participants in the Disney College Program. She went through the gate, took a few steps and disappeared around the corner. The black sky: a clear mirror of my heart.
I had visualized and imagined and looked forward to this day, or this kind of day since she and Molly were little. It looked very different before Molly died. They were always together in some manner. They may have attended different colleges and had very separate “goodbye” experiences but their plans always included each other. Molly’s exit from physical life changed everything and there was a time I just could not think about Gracie leaving at all.
Fast forward 6 months and here we are collecting our Gracie B! Packing her up to bring her back home, to her “real” home, the one that holds all of her memories good and bad. The only home she knew for almost 21 years. That makes it her real home, yes? Or is it just her “for now” home like Flamingo Crossings has been for the last 6 months? What is home anyway?
Siri gave me three definitions for “home” as a noun, three more as a verb, one as an adverb and two as an adjective. Clearly “home” and what it means at any given time in our lives has lots of wiggle room.
“The place where one lives permanently” is the first definition and the one (I think) most people associate with the word. This definition is qualified by “especially as a member of a family or household”. I don’t like this “family unit” piece as there are millions of people who live alone, or with roommates.
Are those people “homeless” because they don’t live with family? Perhaps we need to look at the definition of family.
Siri gave three definitions as a noun, and one as an adjective for family. The most relevant one related to home would be the first. “A group consisting of parents and children living together in a household.” Like the word home, family can describe a number of different ways things and people are connected. Was Gracie homeless for 6 months because she wasn’t living with us?
Siri’s third definition of home starts with “a place where something flourishes” and while it does not actually relate to people, I think it should. One’s home should be a safe, rich, nourishing and helpful place. Siri’s third definition of family begins with “a group of related things”, meaning they have common attributes such as families of plants and/or insects.
My research led me to the following conclusion, home is where you live and who (if anyone) you live with. A place where someone flourishes typically with a group of people with whom they are connected. Gracie was most certainly not homeless in her 6 month stay at Disney and that home was and is as real as the one she grew up in. Her roommates and co-workers became her “DCP Family”. Her apartment, where she slept and kept her belongings, became her home. It took a while but she was able to flesh out her Florida home with a CrossFit Gym, a Dance School and a parking spot for her car. “Home”!
Like everything in life, the word family and what it means has seen major changes in recent times. Episode 48 of A Thousand Tiny Steps is all about family and what exactly it is and is not depending on circumstances. Biologically speaking every human has a mother and a father. Whether or not these people actually raise the child is another issue entirely. Babies are adopted, they are put into foster care. Sperm and Eggs are donated so people unable to create babies on their own can become parents. Grandparents become guardians and raise the children of their children.
Stepping out of American culture, families can look very different. I watched a short film with Gracie once showing how babies from 4 different countries were raised. The most drastic difference in family was in the African example. In that culture all of the women worked together with all of their children. Nursing moms fed all the children, not just their own. The women took turns with the arduous tasks in their daily life. “Family” was very inclusive in terms of daily living activities. The men were absent, somewhere else perhaps at their own jobs.
Home tends to be where, after the daily tasks are done, people related by biology and marriage return. Gracie’s stay at Disney is complete. She will now return home, the home from which she left. She could have stayed in Orlando, created her own home, a new home for herself. The timing for this is not yet here. Gracie is lucky. She has a home in which she belongs. As crazy and dysfunctional as it may be, she flourishes in it, she is safe and loved. She has parents and a brother. A room of her own. A spot for her car.
It is not lost on me at times like this how difficult it must be for those who do not have a typical family upon whom they can rely. They must create a family. We are not meant to be alone. The beauty in this is that one can choose their family. Just like we are not always born into a body that feels right, we can also feel “stuck” in the family with whom we live. Losing your family whether by choice or tragedy is probably one of the most painful experiences we can go through. I have two friends my age who are now without their parents. “I have no family,” one said to me as we sat on the porch. Both of these women in my life are now looking for those people who will become family.
I have an extended biological family with whom I share holidays and life events. I have a biological family I did not know about until I was a teenager. Another complete set of siblings, relatives and traditions. I also have my high school family. A small group of friends with whom I am still in touch. I have my BU Track and Cross-Country family. We have a text thread and we meet on Zoom. I have my CrossFit Family. Those men and women who understand my fitness needs and wants! My newest family? They are my Angel Parents Family. Other moms and dads who have lost a child or children. In terms of daily survival this family is one of my most vital.
The UHaul is packed, her key and Disney ID turned in. Gracie sits here in the hotel as we prepare to visit Hollywood Studios, the park in which she pulled trash and cleaned bathrooms. The home of her “Cast Member Family”. We will ride the rides and watch the shows. We will meet the characters and eat the food. The “we” being Jack, Kenny, Gracie and me. Today’s version of Gracie’s family. Enjoying a day at The Most Magical Place on Earth.
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