For the love of Katherine

Love makes a family not blood and then—there is Katherine.

Readers, I said I wasn’t planning to see my biological family when I trekked to the Midwest, but I hadn’t even considered my half-sister, Katherine.  In fact, when I wrote the piece Love makes a family, I recklessly didn’t consider Katherine at all.

I mentioned that after my father left our family, he flushed the whole failed endeavor and started over.  When he started over with that pretty British woman he had two children, the youngest of whom is Katherine.

I remember sitting with my father and brother in a McDonald’s (circa 1985) in the months after he left my mother.  My brother and I knew of our father’s romance with Katherine’s eventual mother and were asking if the couple intended to have other children.  “No,” he answered, “you two are enough.”  My brother and I both exhaled.  Relief.

When she was small, Katherine looked like Renoir's Portrait of Coco.

It was many years after that I learned of Katherine’s brother’s (my half-brother’s) birth, then of hers from my grandfather.  I chalked another mark in my father’s ‘broken word’ column, but was curious about the children.  I had always secretly wanted a sister.  By that time I was not thinking much about my father whom I had effectively left behind many years before.  I was busy establishing my own identity, going to school, and falling in love.

I don’t know Katherine or my half-brother very well.  I met them twice when they were small, once at a calamitous family reunion and once at my dying grandfather’s bedside.  It was the second occasion when shy, sweet Katherine won my heart.  I still keep a child’s work of art which she created for me, flowers in the sunshine.  At 19, she is no longer a child.

I saw them from afar at my grandfather’s funeral;  then, there was nothing.

Nearly two years ago I received a friend request through Facebook.  (Have I mentioned that I LOVE social media?) I came to know Katherine through her profile and periodic postings, and last summer while I was visiting in the Midwest, we arranged to have a pleasant but awkward lunch.  She impresses me as kindhearted, gracious, graceful, and lovely. A week ago I received a friend request from my half-brother, too.

In February I launched the blog and Katherine had the chance to come to know me through my public gut-spillings.  Can you imagine?  She was told that I existed when she was a junior in high school and now, two years hence, here I have been posting these sometimes incredibly intimate little snapshots of my emotional life.

(Oh! …hi.)

Katherine has likely learned more about me than she wanted to know. Through my recent post, she also learned some things she may not have wanted to know about her parents.  They told her the truth, but they didn’t add the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

As parents, that is pretty much our obligation; to tell the truth, but not–the whole truth and nothing but the truth. There are some things that we don’t tell our children so as not to confuse or upset them.  There are some things we hold back because we must preserve credibility in the parent-child relationship, and there are some things that undermine our goals or just don’t seem relevant.  Also, there are some things that are just plain embarrassing!  Children need to know and trust who we are and not who we were.

Though I am not overly concerned about the ramifications of my postings for many of the individuals I write about—I feel protective of my children and of Katherine and can’t stand having upset her.  I sent her a head’s up about the Love makes a family post thinking she may not have heard the entire story, but not realizing that she hadn’t heard any of it.

In all this Katherine is an innocent and her parents were good parents to her, whatever the roles they played in my narrative.  Guess who read this piece before you did, Readers?

Katherine.

Blood doesn’t make a family, but Katherine charmed me into caring for her when she was just a child.  I don’t know what (if any) role she’ll play in my personal story, but I do know that whatever role I play in hers, it can’t be a negative one.

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