Eddie came bounding out of school one day last week all full of excitement over a little photo album he won when his table group collected the most points for following directions. He knew exactly what he wanted to do with it: "Fill it up with pictures of my family."
I set him up with the laptop, open to Picasa. He paged through the last year diligently, pausing occasionally to ask me to add a photo to his print order.
He added pictures of Todd, Mari, and me, of course. His grandparents, cousins, and uncle. A photo of himself on his first day of kindergarten. One from a ridiculously exciting trip to a Star Wars museum exhibit.
He added pictures of himself with his first dad, Ray, and his first mom, Kelly, from this summer. No surprise for an adopted child who has grown up with his birth parents present in his life.
Then he searched for a photo of Marian's first mom, Beth, and added it, too.
"Pictures of my family."
That's how it is around here: my son counts as kin his adoptive sister's biological mother. There isn't any official familial relationship between them. There aren't any easy labels to describe who she is to him. I haven't the foggiest idea what a genealogical chart would make of it. But she's his sister's first mom and an important part of his life. That's enough for him right now.
I used to think the untidiness of "family" in open adoption--the way it doesn't neatly fit on the standard family tree--was sort of an unfortunate, but necessary thing. Something to be accepted as part of the bigger package. But the opposite is true; my family is stronger because its tent is stretched wide. It has created a space in which my son can claim Beth as his family just as easily as he claims his own first mom or me, the mom he lives with. In our house family is the people you live with and the people whose heritage you carry, but it's also the important people love you and are committed to you. It's hard for me to see anything unfortunate about that.