I remember reading “Romeo and Juliet” in Ms. Birdsall’s 9th grade English class (and watching the 1968 version of the movie while Ms. Birdsall covered Juliet’s backside with a piece of paper). My favorite line is when Juliet refers to their family feud by saying “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet.” Our bunch has had quite a time trying to figure out the right language to use with one another. Although the feelings of family, home, and love are present, their names have been changed to protect the innocent.
The term “family” brings a lot of meaning with it. To me it means connection, warmth, and stability. To our boy it means biology, loyalty, and loss. To refer to ourselves as a family grieves him. It brings up all the things he’s lost, all the connections that have been severed, and all the missed opportunities to have what should have been a safe, loving childhood. Over the last few months, we’ve tried to find a term that has the meaning of warmth, connection, and stability without the hurt that the word “family” inflicts. We still haven’t figured this one out yet. We’ve tried “household” “bunch” and the word for “family” in other languages, but none of them have been the right fit.
Oh, and those other family words…
Saying the word “mom” or “dad” is like throwing daggers straight at our boy’s heart. One afternoon at the store several years ago, I dropped my receipt. A kind old woman handed it to Friday and said “Honey, your mom dropped her receipt,” to which he responded “She’s…not…MY MOM!!!” These days I go by “stepmom,” a term that I hold dear because I adore my stepmom. It’s a word that his friends and classmates understand, and I feel honored to be in the same category as my stepmother. Señor Saturday and I refer to ourselves as his “guardians” since that’s the legal term for our status, but at home Friday typically calls us each by our first name.
The word “love” is still a touchy one around our house. We’ve said “I love you” for years to Friday, but recently he decided give us his honest opinion on the phrase. Many people over the years have said “I love you” but haven’t shown it with their actions. Instead, he prefers that we say “I care for you.”
In the near future, we will have to make the decision to change Friday’s name. How can you just change the name of a 15-year-old?! That’s the only thing he has legally connecting him to the parents that gave him life. We want to make it clear that he is now a part of our family without removing the one part of him that’s still connected to those he loves most. He will still be himself. He will still be the smart, handsome, quirky Friday that we’ve always known, but he’ll go by a different name. We’ve practiced saying his new name (which will most likely be hyphenated in order to respectfully show his identity with both families), and I’ve even caught him doodling it on school work. The name change has surprisingly been much easier to discuss than the word “family.”
If you’ve got any words that we could use, by all means, let us know!