“I was raised by an emotionally and physically abusive father and a mother who did nothing to stop him. Although I tried to keep my father in my life through adulthood — he also had Asperger’s Syndrome, and it seemed clearer the older he got, that his elder care was going to be challenging and I felt he would need my help — it became impossible to manage or tolerate his behavior. When my husband and I adopted our first child, we decided that my father would no longer be a part of our, or our children’s, lives.
Because I had always counted strongly on people who were not my blood relations — and because the people who were my blood relations had failed me — I spent a lot of time thinking about what families were, and where the boundaries for families began and ended. After adopting our second child, I understood that our family was “complete”, but I also started to question this idea of “completion”: why was this the goal? Why was everyone in a rush to get there? Was I ever going to love anyone new again, now that I had these babies? Why were households set up like bunkers, where two adults — and the children that they had, in the majority of cases, created with their own bodies — considered “family units”?
Shortly after turning 40, I began to envision myself — not intentionally, but just out of the blue — as being at the very beginning of coming into my full strength as a human. I had no idea what it was that I thought I was going to do, and had no big plan, but just had a picture of myself in my head, and knew, that when I hit the height of my powers, I would have mostly grey hair. I just felt this sense of acceleration.
Not a single thing that I have accomplished since 2011 and take pride in is anything that, if you had told me about it in 2008, would have been something I was prepared to do. I co-founded and developed a yearly festival and parade in Philadelphia (originally called Krampuslauf Philadelphia, now Parade of Spirits, Liberty Lands) that is now in its seventh yearly run. I was asked to speak at Oxford University about it last year. In 2013, we invited a fifth person to join our family and household. He is now 24, is studying neuroscience at Drexel’s medical school and will be an honoree of Drexel’s “40 Under 40” award this year. He, like my father, has Asperger’s Syndrome. My father died of dementia in 2016. I began homeschooling my children six weeks later. Earlier this year, with some of the money from my father’s estate, I created a scholarship fund for School of Rock Philadelphia, where my son and daughter are students.
I have begun to redefine community and family in my own life, but I doubt I’m anywhere close to stopping. And my grey is coming in so much slower than I would have expected by 48! Working without a plan — giving what I have to give, freely, keeping myself open to saying YES, and embracing a love of folklore and nighttime parades that I didn’t know I ever had, have changed the last seven years of my life dramatically. I’m going to continue to trust whatever has brought me this far to continue to cut away the dead weight in my life and allow me to continue helping to create paths for others.”