A couple of years after our youngest son joined our family, I took Ezra to a birthday party for a school classmate. When the party was over and we were driving home, he asked me where the birthday girl’s siblings were during the party.
“She doesn’t have any brothers or sisters,” I told him. Ezra, youngest of four, was shocked. “Some families just have one kid,” I explained. “Some families have four kids.”
“And some have six,” Ezra said.
I agreed, but then I glanced at him in the rearview mirror and thought about his response. I wondered what he meant by his calculation. Did he choose it randomly? Or was he counting all of the people in our family? (4 kids + 2 adults = 6) He had only been in the U.S. for a short time at that point, which meant he’d only had about two years of speaking/hearing the English language with all its inconsistencies and eccentricities and double-meanings, so I was accustomed to repeating and rephrasing. He’d also only been in the physical presence of his parents, siblings, cousins, etc. for just a few years, so I had to constantly find new ways to explain the concept of a Forever Family.
“Our family has four kids,” I told him. I counted off their names on the fingers of my left hand as I moved the steering wheel with my right. “You, Knox, Ella, and Lucy. Four.”
“Six kids,” Ezra corrected me.
“What do you mean?” I asked. Then Ezra reminded me about the two college students living with us. They were there for the summer to work with our church youth group, and they’d been sleeping in our basement for a week or so. Ezra was ready to include them in his final total. I explained that the college boys had parents and they were too old to be adopted. “Anyway,” I said. “They’re pretty much already grown-ups.”
As we pulled into our garage and I parked the van, Ezra opened the door. He looked back at me before hopping out and said with all seriousness. “Mama, dem boys is our famry.” Then he ran inside to find his two newest brothers.
We’ve learned so much since Ezra joined our family more than five years ago, but one of the biggest lessons has been how we define family. More than ever, we’ve realized that family absolutely doesn’t have to involve a shared DNA. We can carve out deep, sacred relationships with people who cross our paths but never appear on a single branch of our family tree. We can make connections with others by being their cheerleaders for big moments and just being available on an average Tuesday night, by making room at the table and making time in our schedule. Then Friends can become Family.