When I was growing up in Homer, Alaska it was common to have what anthropologists have labeled fictive kin, close social connections that are not related by blood or marriage but are referred to by relational titles. For instance when I was growing up, I called a close friend of my parent’s Grandpa Bell and all the kids at church called an elderly founding member of our church Grandma Edens. Because most people had moved away from their biological families to come up to Alaska, close friends were “adopted” as social supports and became grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins.
As the second and third generations of Alaskans are raised here with biological relatives, fictive kinship has become less common, but my children are lucky to have both an extended family related by blood or marriage and a large fictive kin family due to living in community with Patrick and Denise. Patrick and Denise are often referred to as Uncle and Aunt by the kids, and in addition to the blessing of the kid’s multitude of related grandparents, both their parents have acted in a grandparent roll. Patrick’s parents have helped build the kid’s bedroom sets, gone to school concerts and plays, and celebrated Christmas morning with them. Denise’s parents live more than 500 miles away in Fairbanks, but even so, they have helped support Cedrick going on a mission trip to the Philippines and given us invaluable advice about raising teenagers.
Patrick’s cousins have also become like Aunts and Uncles to the kids; giving advice, watching out for them at camp, going to concerts, and daring them to do outrageous things like sleep in a dog kennel or eat a tablespoon of fish sauce (who doesn’t have a crazy uncle after all?). Denise’s sister and brother in law come down every couple years and the kids have enjoyed clamming and dip netting with their kids.
Denise’s former employers have also become a positive part of their life. Richard and Susan have patiently employed the boys doing manual labor while teaching them life skills and encouraging them to get a savings account and driver’s license.
In addition to the positive community of diverse and responsible adults that Patrick and Denise have brought into their lives, their personal and direct contribution into the children’s lives has been no less than amazing. Patrick and Denise committed their lives to the children, with no obligation whatsoever to do so. They have come along side Mike and I in raising them. They assured them of their home until they graduated, which was a huge commitment because at the time we moved up, Cedrick was in third grade and Kendrick was in fifth.
They shared their traditions with the kids and we built new ones together. We have fondue on St. Nicholas’s Day and they give the kids each an ornament. We have opened up a set of new pajamas on Christmas Eve and get up early on Christmas morning together to peek at our stockings before opening gifts. We torch the Christmas tree on New Year’s Eve and cleaned the house together for Passover. They have made sure the kids have an Easter Basket every year.
They have helped the children with their school work. Denise helped them learn geography by having them do a report on the country, watching Bizarre Foods from that country and then cooking more traditionally edible foods of that country for dinner. They have stayed up till midnight with us making last minute cakes in the shape of Alaska, painted mobile solar systems with them, and helped coordinate two eighth grade history movies with my incredibly talented and patient brother Joshua.
Patrick and Denise have orchestrated fun outings such as exploring the abandoned Buckner Building in Whittier, gone on a multitude of camping trips, and bought half a dozen squirt guns to have a squirt gun war in the summer. They have encouraged us to push them to go to summer camp and Winter Retreat which the kids have enjoyed.
Patrick and Denise have celebrated accomplishments with the children. Their jaws dropped along with ours the first time we heard Kendrick sing in public. They cheered with us when Cedrick won his first wrestling match and then they took him to physical therapy appointments because he blew out his knee during the match.
They were there when they weren’t quite comfortable talking to Mike or I about girlfriends, drugs, or sex. We knew that they would back up our morals and values, even if our kids weren’t talking directly to us.
They have stayed up and prayed with us when we have had to make agonizing decisions about the kids. They have called their own parents and asked for advice on child rearing. They have read parenting books with us, attended counseling appointments with us, and brought the kids to dozens of medical appointments. They were as furious as we were when their safety was threatened. They have had the courage and integrity to confront us when we were either too hard or too lax on the kids. They have reminded us of the family rules to make sure the kids have had as much more consistency as possible.
They have grieved with us when our children have been hurt or have made bad choices which they will have to bear the consequences of.
They have done all this with no obligation to the kids other than what they have freely committed themselves to. I am so thankful that they have sacrificed so much to give the kids the chance to have stability, traditions, opportunities and love.