Silver and Gold

I don’t think Mom was technically breaking the rules when she began my Girl Scouting career as a four-year-old. Sure, you’re not really supposed to start until you hit kindergarten, but Mom was a troop leader for my older sister — who was in first grade at the time — and let me come to the meetings. After a while I was dubbed the “Official Tag-A-Long,” leading me to a lifelong love for the Girl Scout cookies of the same name.
I used to love going to those meetings. The girls were just starting to learn how to read and write, and I would skim through their books, anxious to be on their level. But more than anything, I loved the singing. There was a lot of music involved in Girl Scouts. My favorite song, and one I know my Mom always loved went like this:

Make new friends
But keep the old
One is silver
And the other gold.

The words of that song have served as a life lesson for me throughout the past 17 years, as I transitioned from high school to college, college to internships, and made new bonds. But this morning I had a revelation. I have been lucky enough to not only make new friends, while hanging onto those I have had for decades; I have also had the opportunity to form a new family.

When my mother died last month, I thought for sure that my “family” —Mom, Dad, Sarah and myself — was permanently injured. There would be a giant hole at our dinner table, just like the one sitting in my chest. It was almost as if our family had been swept away, kicked down like an unwanted pile of Legos.

It’s true. The four of us will never gather together again to look at a beautiful sunset, to camp in the Adirondacks, road trip to the ocean, open Christmas presents in front of the fire, or play Scrabble at the kitchen table. But that does not mean that our family is broken.

Dad, Sarah and I have not yet grasped how we are going to work to remain a solidified family unit. With Sarah in graduate school, and me finishing up my undergrad this year, we’re not home often enough to play house. Thanksgiving will be our first true test.

In the mean time, my father bought a dog, and is soldiering on by himself for the most part. Sarah is traveling between home and school for work, spending time with Dad when she has the chance, and living alone in Burlington when she is at school. I am the only one who isn’t by herself in this situation.

I am at Syracuse, living with four other people. Two of them are the perhaps the most amazing women I have ever had the chance to know. We cook and clean for each other, rush to help during minor crises, and stay up talking until the not-so-wee hours of the morning. Just the other day I had a minor panic attack when our drier stopped working an hour before my father came to visit, and with a load of wet laundry in line to be dried. Without even a thought, Kayleigh scooped up my laundry and drove it to the Laundromat.

We wear each other’s clothes — often times without asking — borrow brushes and computers, and pet each other’s hair when we cry about lost mothers, boys, or the stresses of being a college senior. Kim was one of only a few student spectators at a candlelight vigil and Rose Laying ceremony Kayleigh and I were part of to remember the lives of the victims of the Pan Am 103 bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988. In return, Kayleigh and I made sure we were there when she led her sorority to a Powderpuff Championship the other day.

I would normally never go to a Powderpuff game, and to be honest, I did not make the games that my sorority participated in. But I knew how hard Kim had been working for her team, that she had been waking up, dead tired, for early morning practices after working late shifts for weeks. And I knew she would be there for me.

Kim, Me, Kay This is what family does for each other. Family sucks up their pride, pushes aside the list of tasks on a to-do list to help someone with theirs. Family isn’t about being born into a group of four people. It’s about unconditional love, even when you want to hurt someone.

It hurts to walk out of a test, after acing it or bombing it, and know that I can’t call my mother and rejoice or complain. In fact, there are a lot of things that hurt about my mother being gone. While I have no plans to replace her, I am beginning to see that it’s not about replacing, it’s about adapting and growing.

I don’t know if Mom was silver, or if she was gold. I never thought of her as a precious metal, because to me, she was the moon and the stars. I do know one thing though. I have her still, and I also have another amazing family, one she would be happy to see me fit into.

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