Something happened when I got back from Minnesota, something I don't recall happening after any previous trip. After years of traveling away from Memphis, I was, for perhaps the first time, welcomed home.
Those in my household have always noticed my absences (usually, anyway) and seemed grateful for my returns, of course, but after this last, unexpected, nerve-fraying visit to the north, my friends put their collective arms out in sympathy and support. With just simple words like "welcome home" and "glad you're back," they gave me a handrail back to my normal, daily life and the many happinesses within it.
They also reminded me, knowingly or not, about the crucial place friends have in the lives of parents, and parents of young children in particular. Sure, I wish I had the easy babysitting access and travel-free holidays of my cohorts with local family, but if I had to choose between living a mile from my folks and having the close-knit group of friends that occupy practically every day of our week, I'd have to go with my peers. As we raise our kids together, we've been witnesses to the personal triumphs and disasters each of us continuously encounters. We've seen each other at our best and, quite a bit more often in my case, at our weakest, meanest, and most brittle.
I have similar bonds with my family, but they've had my entire lifetime to get accustomed to my quirks (and, let's face it, me to theirs - you can untuck that t-shirt now, Dad). It's not like me to let anyone get within hugging distance unless I've known them for at least a decade, yet most of the people I consider my dearest friends only crossed my path within the last few years. Now I can't imagine how I ever got along without them. As eager as I was to leave town to go mourn with my family, I was just as excited to get back here to regroup with my friends. It's not where I was born, but this is where I've made my home, and these people are the family I've chosen.