For a myriad of reasons, I have been thinking a lot about family lately. To be honest, it is something I have thought a lot about my whole life. As many, if not all, of you know, I was adopted. I was only three months old, so being adopted was and has always been normal. Naturally, I was surprised when I started to learn that being adopted isn't seen as normal to everyone else. Sometimes, it has made people downright uncomfortable. But being adopted is the only reality I have known and I can't imagine my life any differently. In fact, I don't want to. When I was little, we would celebrate my adoption day, August 5. It was like having another birthday but without all the presents. When I realized that not everyone was adopted (which was totally late to the game – I think I was 6 or 7), I felt bad for all the kids who only got to celebrate birthdays. Suckers. As you can see, I was more than content with my reality, my adopted life.
As well adjusted as I was to the idea of being adopted, many confusing questions, of course, bubbled up from time to time. It started with questions from everyone else. Where does your hair color come from? Little me would stare blankly and think God (I was raised religious and thinking back on this thought makes me chuckle). Just as I would give my answer, my mom would chime in: her uncle has red hair. Not untrue, but I obviously didn't get it from him. Why lie? I wondered. Now that I am older, I understand - not everyone needs or wants to know your business. Of course, as I get older I stop caring about what people want and answer their questions directly in hopes they think twice about asking questions they don't actually want to hear the answer to. I digress...
As I grew older and became more aware of myself so did the differences between me and my family, at least in my mind. My hair was red, my eyes were brown, my skin got darker instead of red in the sun. I looked at myself in the mirror and wondered what it would be like to have blonde hair and blue eyes like my mom. I also started to notice that other families had members that looked the same and I wondered what that would be like to. I dreamed about having a twin. I felt like maybe I was missing out on something. I was a resilient little kid though and instead of focusing on the differences, I focused on the similarities. My mom was artistic like me and we would paint, draw and do so many other art projects together. We both had a sweet tooth and loved putting in the work for the reward of freshly baked cookies. I have the most vivid memories of standing next to my mom on a stool to reach the counter to mix in flour, sugar, eggs and more to make cookie dough. We'd laugh as we'd sneak scoops of dough to eat – the “broken pieces.” With my Dad, I played games. I loved games, I still do. On Sunday mornings, we'd eat pancakes and I'd help my Dad with the crossword puzzle in the newspaper. Later in the day we might play a game of die-hard scrabble or cribbage. In between, I'd ask my Dad how different things worked and somehow he always had an answer. In the summer, we'd watch baseball over sandwiches and pickles. And my older brother, well, I just wanted to be him. I think I was in denial about being a girl for awhile. No pink. No dresses. If my brother didn't have to than I shouldn't either. Or conversely, if my brother was doing it, I should be able to as well. At a very early age, I realized there were inherent differences between us because of our genders but that wasn't going to stop me from trying to be the same.
As I got older and into my teen years, it became harder to ignore the differences. Thoughts of this family living in Colombia crept into my mind – would they get me? I was sure the family who knew me best didn't understand me at all. And just as I was going through the growing pains of figuring out who I was, my family fell apart. My foundation was shattered. It took time and a lot of growing pains later to figure out how to split myself in two. To share my time with both parents when they no longer shared their time with each other. To this day, I still worry I am not measuring up but I know my parents would (and will) assure me that I am. Soon after my parents split, I too went away for college. I wanted to get as far away as possible but only got as far as a ten hour drive away. Far but not too far. Distance, in this instance, really did make the heart grow fonder. Slowly, I crept back up the east coast from Washington DC to New York until I found myself back home in Boston. It was then I started to travel internationally, learning more about myself in every new city and culture. I was and forever will be grateful for my family who gave me wings so that I could fly.
While I think leaving home and traveling has always been my very personal journey to understand myself better and piece together my identity, I also always knew I couldn't do it on my own. So through all my travels and moves, I have found remarkable people who I am lucky to call friends. I have the privilege of saying that I have traveled around the country and the world and have created an even bigger network of family than I ever imagined. And finally, that brings me to why I have decided to write all this on this love note – my blog about my time in Milwaukee.
For some reason, all signs pointed for me to be here in Milwaukee. One of my best friends, who I met as my college roommate, moved here first. I started to visit and see this quaint city through her and her future-husband's eyes. A few years later, I headed to graduate school in Los Angeles and quickly met a professor who, coincidentally, was also from Milwaukee. As our relationship grew, the work she was doing in Milwaukee piqued my interest and I was even more eager to visit (and get bonus time with my best friend). Through all these visits, my heart was telling me that at some point, I would find myself in Milwaukee. Sure enough, in 2016, the opportunity presented itself.
At the time, I was restless, I had moved back to Boston yet again, and despite being close to my family and so many of my amazing friends, nothing felt exactly right. I wasn't finding work that motivated or inspired me. I was comfortable but I wasn't being challenged. I was starting to coast and simultaneously losing my way. A wake up call came in the form of an actual phone call when I received the invitation to work on a project in Milwaukee. It was the first time I ever had an offer to write for a living. I hopped in my car and couldn't get here fast enough. While I only took enough of my things to get me through the summer, a part of me knew I wasn't looking back. I was excited for this creative opportunity but I was even more excited to live in the same city as one of my best friends – we hadn't lived in the same city in nearly 10 years! Without a doubt, I knew our relationship was going to grow and we would become even closer. And while many obstacles presented themselves this past year, our friendship really has blossomed into something incredible. It has been so beautiful and rewarding. And while this older friendship continued to develop, I started to meet new people as well. Living in Boston, my friend-network is pretty large (this always feels like bragging but I swear it is not). So over the last year, it was hard to have so few friends here. It was a real lesson, however, in quality over quantity. I am so happy to say that the friendships I have developed in Milwaukee are truly remarkable. In such a short time, I was able to create a family here in Milwaukee. And in turn, Milwaukee has become another home.
I think most of us grow up thinking that we can only call one place home or one group of people family. What I have learned, more than ever in the last year, even more so in the last week, is that this is wildly untrue. If we open our minds and then our hearts, anyone can be family and any place can be home.