I became intrigued with what constitutes a family as I sat one Monday morning in the outpatient surgery waiting room. The call was always for “____ Family.” I’d learned not to sit too close to the phone or I would spend my time answering it instead of engrossed in my book. The clinic that morning performed surgery from cataracts for seniors like Al to dental surgery on little people.
Initially, I had no chance of reading my book. One old man sat in the corner listening to an even older man. To say he was loud would be a vast understatement. Had I been curious about sixteenth section land, I could have had the whole story – how it came to be, what the restrictions were on its use, and how local businesses were affected. Come to think of it, curious or not, I got the lesson. The two men, father and son, were family, and one would wait for the other until the call that surgery was done.
Another family sat across from each other – a grandmother and mother with a two-year-old that rotated between them. He concentrated on an electronic game that pinged now and then.
Soon we were called back, and I stayed until they took Al back for surgery.
When I returned, a more typical family of father, mother, and son had come in and found places across the back. A middle-aged woman had joined those who waited. The oldest man and the toddler were gone. The mother, grandmother, and the old man listened for the phone.
When the call came for “The Gordon Family,” the young woman’s eyes lit up. She and the grandmother headed out. In a few minutes, the old man who had held the place by the phone got up and asked his companions, in case the Smith family was called, to tell them he had to go pee. As he went out the door, contagious smiles spread around the room. Fortunately, he was returning when the phone rang.
Call for “The Butler Family” ended my observations but not my thoughts about what constitutes family. My companions for that morning had people of all ages, several ethnicities, and various family configurations. My own family once matched the “typical” designation of two parents and two-and-a half children as seen in the photograph above, (okay three, but you can’t have half a child). This has changed as we’ve added ten grandchildren who have come as steps, adopted, and born into the family. Their heritages represent ancestries that cover all the options on a typical list except latinx. We have blended. We are family.
At the end of that morning, I decided that one benchmark for family might be the people who wait for you and with you.