We celebrated my daughter’s birthday this week. She turned fourteen. She is fourteen years old, sweet and sassy and beautiful.
My daughter has been alive for fourteen years and yet I have only known her for four. She lived ten of her years completely apart from me. 72% of her life does not include me.
No matter what I do, no matter how hard I try, I can not make up for those lost years. No amount of love can atone for the missing 72%.
Things happened during the 72% that I will never know. Memories she keeps locked deep inside, maybe never to be shared.
When I am most honest, I admit to being jealous of the 72%. Jealous and angry and a little bit scared of the shadowy underbelly of that part of her life. I worry the darkness from her past might overshadow the brightness of her future.
She has only been my daughter for four years. Four years is barely any time at all, when you think about it.
When I asked her what she wanted for her birthday, there were only two things on her wish list.
She wished for a dinner date, just me, her, and her daddy.
She wished for the stuffed animal Stitch.
She is fascinated by Stitch. She loves to draw pictures of him and hang them around her room.
She talks about his story line and scenes from the movie as if they were real. She laughs when she relates the funny situations he gets himself into.
I think she sees herself in Stitch.
Stitch is an alien. Foreign. Displaced from his home. He finds himself living with strangers who don’t look like him. Who don’t sound like him.
He struggles with loneliness.
He feels isolated even when surrounded by people who love him.
He can’t figure out whether to stay with his new family or leave in search of his old.
No matter how much his new family loves him, they can never replace the family he left behind.
The tension lies in living between two families. Feeling pulled in opposite directions.
I do believe this is a tension he will always live with.
I do believe this is a tension that will always be a part of her.
This tension is woven into the very fabric of her heart. It has shaped her into the strong and resilient young woman she is. A young woman with a family who spans the entire globe. No matter where she goes, we will always be with her. We are a part of the tension.
This tension pulls us apart sometimes. It is a tricky thing to navigate, this unseen and often unacknowledged part of our relationship. It can appear at the most inopportune of times, coloring our words with frustration, flavoring our days with tears.
It nibbles around the edges of our family, an unwelcome intruder. She pushes me away. I harden my heart.
We are both getting stronger, though. Better at recognizing the tension and allowing it to shape us instead of break us. The more time we spend together, the better we understand each other. We are learning the true meaning of family.
Family is not about birth parents or bio parents or adoptive parents. Foster parents or step parents. It is not about “real children” or “your own children” or adopted children.
It is not about how long you have been together or the time you spent apart.
Family is not about blood.
It is about love.
Maybe four years is enough time after all. Enough time for both of us to reimagine our definition of family.