I've been blessed with an amazing family.
My memories of growing up are loaded with big family dinners with my extended local family, Calgary Stampede with my Alberta cousins, and endless, endless fun times at home with my sisters.
Stuffed animal wars over the staircase, pitcher hitter long run in the lower field, hours in the ditch catching frogs (OK, that I may have done alone), and always having someone willing to share their pillow when I was too scared to sleep alone.
But times have changed and while those people still mean more than words can begin to say, they have moved to where the world has taken them and in most cases that is far away. Which brings me to the realization that I also hold the memories of times with those who were "like family" just as dear.
So here's to the friend I met in preschool who after a short time became a best friend. Whose mom, after they moved, would drive halfway from Campbell River to pick me up for a weekend visit and put up with Jesus and His Techinicolour Dreamcoat on repeat the whole way home. Who taught me the entire soundtrack of The Phantom of The Opera and how to dance. The friend whose mom continued to invite me despite my track record of getting sick in her car and even after I picked almost every single flower from her prized garden (and who held back her tears so she could capture my joy because I had lined them all up perfectly on a bench).
To the families at Sprout Lake who adopted me for weeks at a time when my parents had to go home for work. Who made room for me in their tent or trailer and gave me a place at their dinner table. Who never said, “No” when we asked to waterski and never passed up an opportunity to toss us out of a tube.
To my "aunt" who would open her ears and door to me any time I needed it. Who listened to a confused teenage girl who really needed someone to talk to. Who would, together with my mom, put on the most amazing Easter scavenger hunt for us as kids and who later in life would support me and my husband in insurmountable ways on the day we brought our daughter into this world.
To "my person" for the year I lived abroad. Someone who would jump at the chance to weekend in Singapore or Hong Kong, who rode through flash flooding full of rats and God knows what else to bring me flowers when I was sick, and who gave me a sense of home when I was nowhere close to it.
To my besties in college who taught me that building someone up doesn't break you down. To the one who cooked the best damn meals any student could dream of, who didn't even yell at me when I accidentally deleted our entire final class paper, and who would later honour me by asking me to stand next to her on her wedding day. To the other who sat beside me on the first day of class and supported my each step. Here’s to the laughter, dancing and stress eating we all shared together.
And, of course, to my grade school friends who are irreplaceable in my heart. Who have laughed with me through the best times and stood by me through the worst. Through love, heartbreak and a million firsts. First poster paper-sized birthday card at Boston Pizza, first time drinking three Crantini's instead of two, first time riding hay bails down a hill, first provincial field hockey championship, first concert, first bad car crash, first apartment and college experience, first death in my family. And recently, and probably most profound, my first experiences of motherhood.
Knowing what I know now, of the impact these people had on my life, it gives me even more drive to provide these experiences for my children. To give them the experience of annual camping trips with friends. To have stand in "aunts" and "uncles" who right now play the role of tickle monster and run out in front of car stopper, a safe keeper, but hopefully will one day be the person they can talk to if God forbid they feel they can't talk to me. To have friends who are more like cousins. To have PJ dance parties with in the kitchen, to stand next to them their first day on the t-ball pitch, and to scream with laughter with as they race to the next clue in the Easter scavenger hunt.
So cheers to the people who helped make me who I am, despite not officially being family.
And cheers to those who will help form my children into their future selves, whoever that may be.
My heart is full.