Along the sidewalks of perfectly plotted trees and homes the exact equal distances apart, a family zooms by on an evening bike ride. A mom, a dad, a sister, and a brother smiled as they passed. The image filled the eyes of my 4-year-old and I could see her brain taking it all in.
“I wish my dad would come back and I’d get a brother. So I’d have a real family,” she yelled into the wind as the words wafted to my ears and down into my broken heart.
“You have a family. The best family ever. It’s me and you girl,” I yell back as I try to keep up with the tiny Frozen bike and unicorn helmet in front of me.
Now, I’m not a moron. I know there’s no such thing as perfect and even the best lawns can be dead and dry beyond the fence. I can point to the houses on the street and know that the house with the black truck in the driveway is where the separated couple lives, the mom is now living in an apartment. The big blue house is where the little boy struggles with anxiety at school. The yellow one around the corner is the grandma raising her grandson.
Behind the mowed lawns and yappy dogs in the front yards, we all have our “things”. The “things” we talk about on wine night and let pour down our face after school drop off.
Our “thing”? My husband died. My daughter is an only child. We live in the townhouse at the end of the cul-de-sac with most of the retirees. I’m a single, widowed mom plopped in the middle of single-family suburbia but often don’t feel like we quite fit the mold. It’s something I see as a wife who desperately misses her husband but something I had hoped my daughter wouldn’t feel or notice. She was only 11 months old when cancer took her daddy. So this- this is the only family life she’s ever really known.
I had hoped that would protect her from feeling like anything was missing. But oh the mom guilt as her little words dug straight into my wounds and insecurities wondering, Will I be enough?
It was just a few more steps ahead when we ran into her best friends from school on their bikes, the parents following behind. They waved us over and we joined their family’s nightly walk.
My daughter rode ahead with the girls and I squeezed in beside the adults to talk work, flu shots and what we all had for dinner. The adult conversation at the end of a busy workday was one of the things I missed the most about marriage and this quick bit of normalcy fed my starving soul. It’s one of the things I love most about suburbia, we can always find a way to tag onto another family.
We finished the loop of the neighborhood and rode our separate ways. My heart full as I raced my daughter home.
After bath and bedtime stories, I cleaned out my daughter’s book bag to find a picture. A giant head with long hair and a crooked smiled girl beside her with a polka-dot dress. The words written at the top—“My Family”.
In moments of grief or jealousy, longing for the family we were supposed to be sometimes I overlook the very family we are. There it was right in front of me scribbled on that brown craft paper she’d worked on at school surrounded by kids with different colored versions of family on their own papers.
The family we give our children may not be what we planned or how it looks on the Disney Channel and I’m sure we will always worry just what level we’re screwing them up but as I looked at the big-headed pink and purple haired mommy drawing– I was sure that while we don’t always fit the mold our little family is truly its own masterpiece.
And I headed to bed knowing, We are Enough. Our little family, we’re going to fit in just fine.