family, My Story

Building Family – Friends Edition

Thinking all was clear, I pulled out to make a right-hand turn from a full stop. Just before I really got going, I saw a vehicle coming my way and quickly pressed the brakes. The driver behind me was already looking at the intersection to make her right turn and didn’t notice that I had suddenly stopped. She hit me at a very slow speed, but still, it totaled my car and gave me a sore neck. This all happened just days before my wedding while moving my things down to my future apartment. Note to everyone, a Chevy Impala can total a Saturn Twin Cam when it hits from behind at 5 or less miles per hour!

As you might expect, I was really excited to marry Putty and start the next part of my life with him! He moved to Champaign a year before I did so that he could begin his graduate program. He lived with three other guys at that time, all friends from childhood who were working towards their undergraduate degrees. When I joined him in my new town after our wedding, I only knew Putty and these three guys. For a girl who chose her college based on proximity to home (I wanted it as close as I could get) I deeply felt the loss of leaving everything familiar behind. I was starting from scratch – no friends, no family. 

This has been a pretty regular part of my life. I’ve ‘started over’ time and time again – but always with family. My first move came the summer before 1st grade. I was heartbroken to leave the only place and people I had ever known. I didn’t know what to expect, but moving is the adults choice and not the child’s choice. We lived in our new town for quite a few years until, in my child’s mind, all chaos broke loose – my parents got divorced.

My kindergarten school class from Owatonna. I’m on the left side resting my chin on my hand.

There were many problems surrounding my parent’s divorce. It was messy and messy in a small town isn’t fun. When I was in 4th grade and after seeking work over and over again, my Mom realized we’d have to move from that smallish town to a larger one just so she could find work and support us. This was the most painful move for me. I had created a new life in this place and most of my formative years were spent in the small community we had around us. It was hard to face moving to a new place, and going from a small private school to a big public school.

Luckily, I was fairly outgoing and made friends easily. I also had family around me, some aunts, an uncle, and cousins. It ended up being a nice time until after a year and half we had to move back to the town where my dad lived because he was diagnosed with cancer. We didn’t know how long he had to live and it was important for us to be near him. I had mixed feelings about this move. I was excited to be near my dad and see my old friends again, but I was sad to leave my new friends and apprehensive about how things would be with a new step-mom, step-sister, church, and school.

This was one of the hardest times in my childhood. Nothing was easy and it was like swimming upstream in the social and family arenas. My friends from before had moved on from me, so it was very much like starting over again. I had trouble being my own person and so I tended to have the same friends as my step-sister who was the same age as me and in the same grade & school as me. There were a few people that were ‘my own’ but it was hard to create a deep relationship with them because they lived in the neighboring towns.

After a year and a half in this location, it was apparent we had to move again. Dad was doing better (Praise the Lord!) and we were doing worse. With all these things in mind, Mom made the choice to move us yet again. I felt like a ping-pong ball between Iowa and Minnesota. We finally settled in Minnesota. We moved to one house for a month and I started the first 2 weeks of 8th grade. Then we got permanent housing on Bethel College’s family housing. Mom started her Master’s degree program while working and I began my new 8th grade class.

All the places I’ve lived and the sequence of moves

We stayed in this school district throughout the remainder of my schooling and when it came time to choose a college, I chose Bethel College. It was close and I had control to stay in this place that was comfortable, safe and familiar. I was at peace and finally found my home. But, as much as I wanted to stay in Minnesota, my fiancee felt it was the right call to move to Champaign for his Doctoral program. So, yet again, I faced the challenge of starting all over again, from scratch.

Putty’s silly/crazy friends I first did life with. Yes, they are all holding knives…

I struggled the first year to really find my place and my ‘people.’ I mostly got to know my colleagues at work and Putty’s already established friend groups. I was still longing for a best friend. I felt lonely a lot and calling my family on the phone wasn’t enough to fill me up. I needed local friends and dare I say, family.

It wasn’t until our realtor suggested we meet her daughter and son-in-law. At first we just dismissed the idea, but she brought it up a few times and that seemed odd. So, eventually we were all able to have a meal together and we really hit it off! In addition, we found out that we lived within walking distance from each other. Over the next few months, our friendship became much more of a family relationship as we began seeing each other regularly and spending time with their local families.

Eventually, not only did these two become our framily (friend+family), but I also became framily with Putty’s childhood friends who were in town. We all became very close. We didn’t have that many opportunities to be with family on every holiday, and definitely not around Christmastime. The cold and sometimes unpredictable weather made it difficult to plan any travel in the winter. And more than that, we wanted to create a tradition of being at home on Christmas morning, so that really meant no traveling around Christmas.

So, we established our own holiday traditions based around our friend groups. We had an annual gingerbread decorating party for a few years that was a blast! We had some very creative displays. Every Christmas Eve we went to our friend’s party to visit with others who were in the area for the holiday and of course, eat good food! The most precious tradition that we only had for a few years, but was so intimate and special, was spending Christmas afternoon at our framily’s house around the corner, just the four of us, playing games, talking, and spending time together. 

Some of the gingerbread creations from one of our parties.

It was through these close friend relationships that I learned how to create and build family outside of my traditional family. I learned to take what I had around me and not only to make the most of it, but build it into something. The exciting part is that in the end, I came to understand that I wasn’t settling for something second-class, but instead I was gaining a new normal that I loved and looked forward to. I looked forward to the new traditions and close-knit feeling for kinship from this group. It was all very special. I truly had a sense of family togetherness with my friends. I learned that friends can be family too! It doesn’t have to mean something is missing from my life, it actually means that something has been added!

I’m really thankful for the friends who have been around me all these years, but surprisingly, family has begun to move close by. Next time I’ll post about how that yet again caused me to shift my family paradigms and learn how to build family with local family.

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