Finding My Chosen Family
I pulled up to the right home, parked the car, unbuckled my 1-year old son from his car seat and walked across the front yard. As I approached, I noticed a blonde woman with curly hair, a large green turtle swimming pool, and a toddler.
“Is this where the Newcomers Playgroup is?" I asked. She told me it was, so I sat down with my son, and we began to play.
Fast-forward 30 years. Today, that blonde, curly-haired woman and I are both expecting our first grandchild any minute, any hour – or, as Jewish tradition teaches us, b’sha’ah tova, "at a good hour." Her name is Donna, and as a point of clarity, no, we are not expecting the same grandchild! My son didn’t marry her daughter, although they have remained the best of friends.
Since that day 30 years ago, our families have become what we call “chosen family” – those friends you make at an important time in your life and who are there for you through each and every milestone of life, small and large. A year later, when my water broke in the middle of the night with my second child, Donna was at my house in her pajamas 10 minutes after I called. When Donna was at the hospital having her second child, her daughter Erica stayed with my family. Donna coordinated the pastries for the oneg (the refreshments after Shabbat services) the night before my children’s b’nai mitzvot, and I did the same for her. I officiated at Erica’s wedding. Donna set up meals of condolence when my parents passed away.
The list continues. We have simply been there, sharing together with our families so many of life’s important and meaningful moments. Early on, the only ground rule in our relationship was that we each knew that our primary loyalty was to our children, and although we shared lots of our own hopes, dreams, and questions – about being parents and about life – we would never divulge their confidences to us.
And so several months ago, we found ourselves in the midst of a strange conversation in which we learned that we’d each been keeping a very large secret from one another: We were both on track to become grandmothers the same week.
As I sit here waiting and reflecting, I find myself thinking of my wishes for my son, my daughter-in-law, and my yet-to-be-born grandchild. One of my wishes is that they find a “Donna and family” – someone who can share the good times and the challenges, who can celebrate and who can mourn together – because much as it pains me to think about, no matter how things play out, there will be times of celebration and times of mourning in their lives.
Donna and I didn’t meet through our Jewish community, although had we both been involved in a Jewish community at that stage, we might have. In those days, most congregations didn’t reach out to young families the way many do today. Since then, more communities have come to understand what a crucial, developmental time it is when babies are young and families are in formation. What I wish, for all young families, is that religious communities embrace them, welcome them, provide ways for them to connect to one another, help them meet their own Donnas
Synagogues and other organizations can’t wait for these families to approach them; they can’t and shouldn’t expect these families on their own initiative to “join” the communities. Some will, but many have too many other obligations and pressures to be seekers and joiners at this point. They need help, they need resources and they need connections.
I urge all communities to imagine a world where they reach out, where they create connections and opportunities for connections, where they welcome everyone – those of all backgrounds and abilities, those with screaming and those with laughing children – so that all young families can find those friends who will help them celebrate their milestones and share their challenges together.