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One girl, one life, one world shared.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Celebrating Family

Last night my younger daughter and I discussed how amazing it was that everyone in the house had today off from work. This hasn't happened since November of last year, to give you an idea of how rare it is.

In a feat of sheer coincidence, I realized this morning that today is April 3rd.

Eight years ago today, my then husband, Sam, and I showed up at his ex-wife's house in Corbett, Oregon. As I walked through the door of her house, I shook so hard I thought I might pass out.

One week earlier Sam's ex-wife had called to ask if we could come pick up her kids. She was planning to move to California and she felt the children would be better off with my husband and I. I immediately jumped at the opportunity. Sam and I had been spending many nights a week on the phone with his younger daughter, listening to her troubles, listening to her cry, listening to her beg to live with us. We knew things were not well for the children and I was losing sleep, not eating, having difficulty focusing at work--I was so worried about those children. When we got the call, I went straight to my boss and said, "I need some time off work. My husband's ex-wife has finally asked us to come get the kids. She said she was scared and I know there's violence in the home, so I need to leave immediately."

But it wasn't fear of violence that had me shaking when I walked through that door. The last time my husband and I had custody of one of the kids, it had ended with my husband in jail for custodial interference. I was afraid for the disruption to my life, to their lives, to everyone's life. I was determined there would be no custodial malarkey this time. I had printed custody papers in advance and printed three copies of the front sheet, the one that said who had custody of whom. I offered all three to their mother and explained what each one was, "This one grants Sam full custody of all three, this one grants you both joint custody of all three, I left this last one blank since you said you might like joint custody of one but not the others." "Let's just do this one," she said, handing me the page with full custody. I folded the other two and stuck them in my purse, keeping the one she chose with the rest of the paperwork.

After lots of bumbling, gathering of the children's things, and being told the children believed they were only coming for the summer, we finally hit the road to head down the mountain into the nearest town to find a notary for the custody papers. When we arrived to the notary's office, their mother grabbed the paperwork and re-read it before carrying it inside with her ex-husband so they could both sign. I stayed outside with the two younger children, idly chatting. After the paperwork was signed, we went to the hospital where the eldest was staying to visit with her as we knew it would be at least a couple of weeks before she could join us in Texas.

And then our lives changed forever.

I could tell you stories: Stories of children who couldn't sleep because they had been led to believe I was a monster who would hurt them in their sleep. Children who thought a hug meant you were supposed to do your best to hurt the other person. Stories of children who, when I tried a power play of, "If you don't finish your dinner, you won't eat again until you finish the leftovers," said, "That's fine, I've been weeks without eating before." Then, true to their word, I was begging them to eat a few days later. I could tell you stories of children that to this day still thank me every time I feed them as if it's a personal gift.

Instead, let me tell you of March 2007 when my youngest daughter came to me and said, "Mom, guess what's coming up next month?" "What's that honey?" "Our familyversary! April 3rd is one year since the day you got custody of us. We should celebrate!"

And so we have. Since 2007, we have celebrated our Familyversary every year without fail. We take it as our one day a year to remember what family means to us, how we came together, and how much we truly appreciate having each other.

This year, we forgot. We didn't talk about it for weeks leading up as we usually do. I guess this is a sign we have become accustomed to our family unit, no longer finding it necessarily noteworthy.

When I woke up this morning, my eldest daughter came out of her room and I said, "Hey, guess what today is?"


"April third..." I replied.

Confusion, then understanding dawned on her face, "Happy Familyversary, Mommy!" she exclaimed, hugging me.

"And, everyone has today off!"

"Oh my goodness, that's amazing, we'll celebrate!!"

The same story was repeated twice more with my other two children.

Eight years ago today, our family was officially formed. It has grown and changed so much over the years, but one thing has remained the same: a fierce desire to love and be loved.

Today, once more, we will celebrate each other and what it means to be FAMILY.