"Understanding My Family's Circles"

When I adopted my beautiful daughter, I realized none of my childhood dreams had played out exactly as planned. But over the years, the meaning of family evolved — and my circle of family grew.

The meaning of family came to me watching my father help my daughter ride her bike

I watched my father walk alongside Eleni, encouraging her to look straight ahead and concentrate as she made a sharp left on her two-wheeler. “Eleni, pay attention!” my dad called out, as he guided her around the bend and detected a glint of mischief in her eye.

It was a warm summer evening, and Eleni and I were visiting my parents on Long Island, about 50 miles from our home. We had come to escape the city’s relentless heat and to spend the weekend with them. “I’m fine, Grandpa, really,” Eleni replied, as she laughed and cycled away. As my mom and I ambled behind, I thought back to a night about 40 years ago, when I had learned to ride a bike on the very same street, with my much-younger father in tow.

Back then, life seemed simpler. When I wasn’t in school, I spent countless hours pedaling around or soaring high on my swings, dreaming about a future with endless possibilities. At 47, I don’t remember many of those childhood dreams, but I do recall wanting to get married, to have children, and to be famous.

These days, I acknowledge — reluctantly — that I’ve entered middle age, and that certain prospects in my life have withered. I haven’t ruled out marriage, but I know I’ll never bear a biological child. And while I still sometimes daydream about fame or worldly success, I know I’d have to give up much of my personal life to achieve it.

As an only child, and a single mom, I also admit to feeling uncertain about the future. My parents, who’ve been anchors in my life and incredible grandparents to Eleni, will soon turn 80. They’re slowing down now, showing signs of age and complaining of ailments that have crept up slowly but surely. I try to help them negotiate each turn in the road (as I do with Eleni), but I realize with sadness that they won’t be with us forever.

Not long ago, Eleni and I attended our five-year reunion of families from our China adoption group. On a glorious summer day, the girls, now 5-1/2, ran through sprinklers, squirted each other with water guns, and chased each other late into the afternoon. One mom mentioned how each of the girls is slowly starting to resemble her adoptive family, in demeanor, personality, and appearance. I looked at them — these girls who’d lived together as babies in an orphanage — and remarked how much they seemed like sisters. Though they lack blood ties, I noted, they share a country and history that predates us, their adoptive parents. And they share a personal story that perhaps only they can understand.

When I was a child soaring high on my backyard swings, I had a narrow vision of what my grownup family would look like. But as years pass, I see the meaning of family more broadly. These days I think of family as a set of interlocking circles, with my parents, Eleni, and I forming the center ring, and groups of loved ones completing others. There are close friends who seem like siblings, families who share our adoption story (or have etched their own), and even people we haven’t met yet. The way I see it, the circles are entwined by love, common threads, and support — and though it may not look traditional, my family is a chosen blessing.


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