Surrogate Families

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Lisa Schroeder is a native Oregonian, which means her childhood summers were spent camping, fishing, reading books (of course!), and playing in the sun, when it finally came out. These days, Lisa spends her summers, and every other part of the year, sharing all the wonderful things Oregon has to offer with her husband and two sons. She is the author of three novels for young adults published by Simon Pulse: I Heart You, You Haunt Me, an ALA 2009 Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers; Far From You, a Texas TAYSHAS selection; and Chasing Brooklyn. She is also the author of It’s Raining Cupcakes, a middle-grade novel published by Aladdin. You can learn more about Lisa and her work at www.lisaschroederbooks.com.

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The unhappiness melted away

My parents divorced when I was in the second grade. Soon after, we moved to a new neighborhood where I went to a new school and made new friends. Laurie Runyon was one of those friends.

I don’t remember how Laurie and I met. I wish I did. Fortunately, I have lots of other memories of Laurie and her family.

Laurie had the kind of family I longed to have. A mother and a father, together and happy, an older sister, and two older brothers. Their house was loud. Fun! There was always someone at their house. And usually, a lot of someones! It was so different from my own, which was often quiet and lonely because my mother worked and my little brother was in daycare during the week. I’d come home every day after school to an empty house.

Soon after divorcing, both of my parents started dating other people. My mom went through various boyfriends, and my dad remarried a woman who also had kids. Those years when I was 8-12 were hard for me, as I tried to understand why love doesn’t always last, and wondered whether my parents would always love me. I had new people coming in and out of my home, and on my dad’s side, a new family to adjust to. Not only was it difficult, but I wasn’t very happy about any of it.

Whenever I was at the Runyons’ house, however, the unhappiness melted away.

As time went on, I spent more and more time at Laurie’s house. She rarely came to my house – I always wanted to be at hers. She’d invite me to stay overnight and in the summertime, we would sleep on the deck and watch the meteor showers. We’d have lemonade stands in front of her house, earning money so we could ride the city bus downtown to shop and have lunch at our favorite soup restaurant. Her family had a home in the mountains and it wasn’t long before I was invited to go along whenever they would go up for a weekend.

I didn’t see it then, but I certainly see it now. Laurie’s parents added a fifth child to their family back then. They were the stability I so desperately needed at the time. I don’t think Laurie’s mom ever said no when Laurie would ask her if I could spend the night or come along for a weekend away. She must have known. She must have known their family was exactly what I needed at the time.

Years ago, I was talking to a counselor about my childhood. She told me statistics show that children who grow up in a “chaotic” environment and manage to come out on the other side okay almost always have a family or good group of friends that they attach themselves to like I attached myself to the Runyons.

And when I think about that, I get teary, because if it weren’t for Laurie’s parents letting me attach myself to them, I probably wouldn’t be the person I am today. I made it through those chaotic years due in large part to the kindness of the Runyon family. And now, when my own kids want to have friends over, I rarely say no. All are welcome any time, to laugh with us, to eat with us, to be with us as long as they want to stay. Because you just never know when the love of a family, even when it isn’t your own, is exactly what someone needs at the time.

~Lisa Schroeder

Next week, an essay by David Robson. Please submit your questions and / or Q4K essays (no longer than 1,000 words, and no attachments please) to questforkindness[at]gmail.com