I’ve written about the fact that the period between my birthday on December 18th through Christmas is not my favorite time of year. Soon I’ll have more to offer on the topic of family. I wish I could say it will be happy stuff.
So tonight – Christmas Eve – I reflect on my families of choice, because they make me happy, bring me joy, and sustain me. I have three.
There are very few of my 63 years when I haven’t had at least one dog living with me. I cherish memories of those who are gone, and am grateful for my boys Finn and Conall. They are the best family this single gal can have. Always happy, never grumpy, living in the moment without worry about yesterday or tomorrow, eager each morning to help me wake up with kisses and snuggles, all the better to get me up and going so we can see what the day will bring, always expecting it will be amazing. It almost always is. I learn so much from my canine family, my pack.
In 2002 I took a risk and started a hobby business. Family and most friends thought I was nuts. I created a dog camp, a place people and their dogs come for a weekend of off-leash frivolity and games, with few rules and the singular goal of having fun. I was inspired after learning of the original dog camp in Vermont, much too far for me to drive with my own dogs. Naming the new business after my dogs Maia and Meadow – Maian Meadows Dog Camp – I found a Camp Fire facility to rent, a kid camp during the summer that sits on a beautiful lake and is nestled under big pine trees. Cabins are rustic; that’s part of the charm. Food is…comfort food (think bacon, lots of bacon). We hike, swim, play dog-centric games for prizes, and just hang out on the beach watching the dogs swim for sticks. My personal favorite activities are the costume and limerick contests, where peoples’ dog-themed creativity shines.
Except for two years when life circs prevented me from hosting camp, I’ve welcomed campers and their dogs to two sessions each year (June and September). Very quickly I noticed a pattern: over half of each session was filled by returning campers, many who came every year, sometimes both sessions each year. After a few years, though, the sad part of such an annual endeavor became apparent: dogs who had been coming to camp for years became too old and frail to attend, or died. Their absence, along with that of their person, was palpable. But then, a year or two later, that person would return to camp with a new dog. And so the family grew and sustained itself. This felt to me like the best possible family because we all shared something essential to our beings: a love of dogs. New people show up every year, often becoming “veterans” of camp, returning annually. We exchange email addresses and become friends on Facebook. Now, almost 20 years into my crazy idea, I feel incredibly blessed and privileged to be welcomed into the warmth and love of all of these relationships. Dog campers – the people and their dogs – are my tribe, my family of choice.
My other tribe consists of runners, especially trail runners. (Many have dogs, too!) I first started running trails in the 1980s, but I was just dabbling the first few years. Then in 1990 I met a few folks who were training for Western States 100 and invited me to run with them. I was instantly hooked, and began running ultra races myself. Back then, the ultra distance trail running community in Seattle was relatively small; we all quickly got to know one another, often training together on weekends. There weren’t many races back then, either, so when we did race – in Washington, Oregon, or British Columbia – we’d see the same people and strike up friendships. When you spend several hours with a stranger during a trail race, running companionably on single track trails through a forest, you talk about anything and everything and quickly bond. It’s hard to explain, but the usual social walls tumble away, people sharing much more about themselves on the trails so that you make connections in a few hours or over the course of a few training runs that would take years to accomplish in more typical social settings. After I moved to Idaho and quit racing, I sorely missed seeing these friends on the trails, but we stay in touch through emails and Facebook. They’re family to me, my other tribe.
Choose What Sustains You
For many, their family of origin offers love and support and is their family of choice. They’re lucky indeed. For the rest of us, it can be hard, acknowledging that your family of origin either won’t or can’t give you what you need. But that same admission can also be freeing, allowing you fill that gap with families you choose and create.
I’m grateful for all three of my chosen families.
Happy Christmas Eve and Christmas, Festivus (for the rest of us), Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Boxing Day, Winter Solstice and any other end-of-year celebration to my diverse readers and their families, however you define family ( including two- and four-legged members)!
Feature photo: Finn and Conall posing in front of my decorated Christmas cactus, December 23, 2017.