Sunday, August 31, 2008

Who's Karla??

We get this question a lot from people who haven't been around the house as much, or with whom we haven't spoken regularly. Put simply, Karla is a member of our family. She's 17, and has lived with us full-time for most of the summer. Where did she come from, you ask? Allow me to go back to the beginning.

Back 4 years ago, I had Karla in my first-year French class. She was, as we say in New England, "wicked smaht", and I remember her then for her consistent and focused work ethic (something rarely found in 9th graders) and for the fact that she got my jokes. She faded out of my world after that one academic class (I rarely teach beyond the first year because I teach more than one language, and even more rarely do I teach beyond first year in French because enrollment is much smaller than Spanish). I would see her around and, although we were always friendly, we rarely did more than smile as we passed in the hall until her junior year, when she tried out for soccer.

That was when we really got to know each other. We would often sit and chat before and after practice, or in the van as we traveled to games. She learned a little about my family, and I discovered that hers, to speak in generalities, left her wanting for a certain kind of familial closeness. To listen to her, even though she rarely talked about it openly, it was obvious that she wanted to be appreciated and understood by her family for the kind of person she was (not the kind they wanted her to be), and that she did not appreciate all the politic and backbiting that was part of her family experience.

Last year, I invited her to our annual New Year’s Open House event. I often invite students to this event; it is, after all, an inclusive affair and many of them have said they enjoy the opportunity to hang out without the pressures that are often part of such festivities. At our place, the geek factor is awfully high, but we’re easy to get along with. I don’t know how she felt about the offer at the time. Sometimes students come, sometimes they don’t. It can be a little weird on the surface, and I respect that. Karla, however, showed up early. In fact, she stayed overnight and enjoyed the traditional Fatty’s brunch, then stayed over an extra night because the roads weren’t safe to drive on (she earned her keep and more by helping shovel out the driveway because the snow was too wet and sticky for the snowblower to handle).

My family fell in love with her instantly. She has this really wonderful energy about her that fits with us, and Wifeness remarked on it more than once that evening. My girls picked up on it, too. I remember them both wanting to sit next to her when we did bedtime routine (watch a bit of video, read books, sing songs) and, when she was finally able to head home, they asked with some poignancy when she might be coming back. That’s how you know you’ve been truly adopted: You get asked to be part of bedtime routine!

As she headed for home, we made sure to tell Karla that we very much enjoyed her company, and that she would be welcome to come by anytime. She must have enjoyed herself, too, because it didn’t take long before she was back. I think it was that next weekend. She fit in so nicely with our family that it never even occurred to us, I don’t think, to wonder why she wanted to see us again. In the way that we always are with those who choose to be part of our family, we welcomed her with open arms.

It quickly became routine to have her under our roof. Every couple of weeks or so, she’d come up for dinner and stay over. It seemed like the first several times, she even stayed for consecutive nights. The reasons varied (the weather would turn gross and she couldn’t get home, she would be down with a bug and we would keep her until she felt well enough to travel), but never once did her presence become a burden. In fact, she actively participated in family life at Wayfarer House. She was not afraid to deal with tubby time or be part of cleaning up. She learned how to bake (seriously kick ass) bread. She helped with the shopping. If the duties of “chosen family member” include a contribution to the routines that make family function well, then Karla earned that honor easily; she understood instinctively how to contribute to the work of the house, and did what she could to keep it running.

It was fabulous for all of us, but I worried about the appearance of disrespect to her biologicals (thanks for that term, Chili). We talk with Karla’s mom regularly, and she has always seemed ok with this arrangement, but her dad has taken a dim view of Karla’s assimilation into our family. He would not likely agree to this, but if we could sit down face-to-face, I would tell him that we are not trying to usurp his place as her father or negate the work he has done to raise her (he and Karla’s mom are divorced since she was small). We encourage Karla to talk with him, so that he can understand where she’s at in her life and where she wants to go, but also so he can recognize that she’d really love for him to be there with her as she crosses the threshold into adulthood. How wonderful it would be for her to really connect with her dad! She has issues with the rest of her biological family as well, and we’ve talked about the fact that being a member of our family does not negate her membership in her biological one, though we’re helping her to choose just where to put all that in its rightful place in her life.

As this year has progressed, Karla has become more and more a part of Wayfarer House. She was even living with us full-time from the beginning of August until this weekend, when she headed off to college. We will miss her terribly when she finally leaves her little closed-off corner of the dining room (I can’t wait until we have a house big enough for everyone to have a bed and walls), but we’re excited that she will still be close.

The Wayfarer family is very truly blessed that Karla has chosen us.

1 comment:

Mrs. Chili said...

In the brief time I spent with her, it was pretty obvious to me that Karla fits right in. Chosen family is still family - no one knows this more than I do - and I think it's wonderful that you're all so willing to spread your love around. As someone who NEEDED a family to take me in when I was younger, I also know that such people are vital, and I'm proud and pleased that you're doing that in your corner of the world.