Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Family or Orphanage?

I made a phone call tonight. Padre Julio called me from San Diego, saying he needed me. That voice mail landed in my iPhone at the same time that a text message popped up, "Mommy, I need you."

No, Padre Julio was not calling me Mommy; that was just coincidence. The latter, simultaneous message had come from Noelle's roommate, Desiree. The message took me back to a Facebook exchange yesterday. My kids, both the birth kids and the non-biological offspring we took in, are in continuous contact with each other on FB, and, given the nature of FB, I get to eavesdrop a lot on them -- more than I ever could when they were growing up!

Noelle had written to Lizzie, who may be visiting next month, asking her to stop by and meet her new "sister," Desiree. Desiree has, indeed, adopted us as family. I have no idea as to where her real family is or if she even has any relative who is alive. She never talks about her relatives, and I don't pry. Well, at least I have not pried yet. Noelle commented on FB that she wanted Desiree to meet the rest of the family.

Lizzie responded, "What family? The Mahlou clan is not a family; it is an orphanage." She, of course, was speaking tongue-in-cheek and quickly agreed to drop by and meet Desiree.

Actually, Lizzie's comment may not be far from reality. In addition to our four children, Donnie and I have taken in several others, and we continue to acquire "offspring." When our kids were teenagers, stray teenagers moved in with us, hailing from the local barrio (Blaine), suburban Moscow (Ksenya), and Siberia (Shura). Then, when our children became young adults, they brought in-laws and, most lately, Noelle's roommmate. Also, as I traveled the world, I managed to gather in four other young adults from Iraq, Jordan, and Bahrain, who, for one reason or another, call me Mom as well as call whenever they need help of any sort or want to share a special happiness or success. I am in near-daily contact with my entire "clan."

And then there is Padre (Father) Julio from Colombia. Assigned to our parish for a short period of time as the priest for the Spanish Mass, he prayed Noelle through her brain surgery at Stanford University Hospital -- an interesting phenomenon since she understands Spanish poorly and he did not understand much English at the time, but prayer is not something that needs translation. Donnie and I built his website when he began an organization to help the children of Colombia with education, clothing, and work opportunities. Then, the bishop assigned him to the English Masses in a nearby city with little warning, a tough assignment because of the language. For the ten months he celebrated English Masses prior to returning to Colombia for the past year, Padre Julio spent 8-10 hours a week at my house, learning English in the evenings. I worked with him on the kinds of vocabulary, grammar, phraseology, and text organization that he needed for his homilies and on pronunciation for the gospel reading and liturgy. In the beginning, I helped him put his homilies into English(I do understand Spanish though I speak it not thrillingly well); later, he would write the homilies himself and email them to me for correction; toward the end of his study he did not need my help in this way and we simply moved forward in improving his overall English, talking about all kinds of daily and spiritual topics. As much as he thought I was a blessing to him, he was more a blessing to me. Padre seemed like a younger brother -- even more so after his mother came from Colombia for a long visit. I called her Mama, and, a mother of seven boys, three of whom became priests, she told people that I was the daughter she never had. After Mama and he returned to Colombia, Padre occasionally Skyped me, especially when he was at home with Mama. She pushed the limits of my Spanish, but one does not need linguistic erudition for familial bonding and love. Padre came back to the USA a few months ago and was assigned to the San Diego diocese, to a parish near Tijuana on the Mexican border. In the phone conversation tonight, Padre asked Donnie and me to come to San Diego to visit him; he misses us. Yes, he knows how far it is from us: more than eight hours since we need to go all the way to the border. One just does not think about those kinds of things with family, though. Family always comes. Family is always "there" when you need them. Of course, we will go visit Padre. I am his big sister. We are family.

Oh, by the way, the reason Desiree needs help is that the building manager will not let her stay with Noelle because she does not qualify to live there -- it is a building for the handicapped, to which Noelle moved when Ray was long-term hospitalized in 2006, having fallen into a coma that lasted nearly nine months. She needed something smaller, more affordable, and more accessible to a wheelchair since she was living alone. Desiree moved in a few months after Ray died. Of course, we will help her. She is now, after all, also family.

Reflecting upon matters, Lizzie's tongue-in-cheek comment about being an orphanage, not a family, is inaccurate. I am certain that in a serious moment she would agree that we are not an orphanage. We are definitely a family.


  1. In my personal life, I learned long time ago that "family" means more than dad+mom+children. Some people have become part of my family even if they are not blood related. And as you said, family comes first. Family is always there when you need it. What a comforting thought!
    I enjoyed knowing more about Padre Julio. He seems like a very special man. I dropped him an email a few days ago. Talking about my native country, I almost got in tears last night when reading about the teenagers killed in Puerto Asis, Putumayo. I am not sure if Padre Julio has been there. I visited Puerto Asis many years ago, before it became such a violent town. I had "family" there. A aunt and lots of cousins.

  2. Padre's haunts, as far as I know, are only Bogota and Palomar, but who knows. Perhaps he has been in Puerto Asis -- sounds like it is located on the coast.

    I don't know whether Padre will be able to answer an email. He called me yesterday. Usually he emails. When I asked him if he access to email, I did not get an answer; we got off onto something else. He said he would text me his address. That sounds like no email access, but I would not know why unless he was not able to bring his computer back with him (or it died). I guess I have to go to San Diego to learn the details. I still have to control for careful English speaking. Padre is pretty good at speaking but has problems with rapid-fire speech from others.

    Did you write in Spanish or English? Spanish would be better. Let me know if you don't get an answer, and I will write a note introducing you and cc you -- assuming Padre is not offline at this point.


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