I consider myself a very fortunate child of several different worlds. My dad’s family are about as American as apple pie, and are mostly congregated in Indiana. My mom’s family are Latin, and scattered across the Dominican Republic and Venezuela. Both are large, warm, loving, and present in my life, and I am so thankful for the support and perspective they have given me.
My junior year of high school, my family grew by one when we signed up to host an exchange student from Germany. What was supposed to be a one year placement turned into three, and our temporary addition turned permanent – bringing a whole other family into our fold.
Chatting with Philipp over this past Thanksgiving, we both reflected on how lucky our situation was. I didn’t do much research on hosting exchange students before Philipp came to our home, but since he’s been with us I’ve heard dozens of horror stories of exchanges gone wild or host families gone wrong. None of the other exchange students that came to our school forged a bond with their host families as lasting as ours. There were many experiences tainted by home conflict. But while Philipp and I had our moments, it was pretty much always understood that as long as he was in our house, we were family. And since he stayed, we still are. I credit my parents for creating that culture in our house in Florida, and his parents for supporting it. These days, when people ask about my siblings, I tell them about both Bryan (my biological brother) and Philipp.
Like many families, we’ve shuffled around quite a bit these past few years. And this spring, Philipp finished graduate school at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. My parents and I met Philipp and his family in DC for the ceremonies, and touring this truly international city with my extended German family, I was reminded once again just how lucky I am.
The trip was short, and we wound up with only one full day to sight-see. I had been to DC several times before, but not for many years. First on my agenda: visiting with yet another extended family: my NPS brothers. I worked with Rob and Mike during my first summer in Utah – two world-class interpretive rangers that have since transferred to the National Mall and Memorial Parks. After a lengthy Thai lunch with Rob (who I didn’t get a picture with – ROB! What were we thinking???), I headed over to the Washington Monument with my family to meet Mike, who spoke with us for nearly two hours sharing all of the secrets and fun facts of the memorials. While my parents enjoyed his interpretative lecture, I was just happy to see him again. Working in small and remote parks like Island in the Sky forges fast bonds. Even though it had been years since I’d seen either Mike or Rob, my heart felt so full and happy to share the air with them again.
After saying goodbye to my Park Service brethren, my parents and I headed to Georgetown – their old stomping grounds. My dad went to dental school at Georgetown, and my mom got her undergraduate degree here. They met and fell in love on these picturesque streets, and by total coincidence, our taxi dropped us off right in front of the restaurant where my dad proposed.
We spent a few hours wandering cobblestone pathways and admiring lavish townhomes. “This was the city where I was young,” my mom sighed, and I felt blissfully happy to be back here with her (by the way mom, you’re no old broad just yet).
And then, the very next morning, we were at the airport – all of us heading in different directions.
Isn’t it wonderful to be alive and living in a free country in the year 2014, when a family can span an entire hemisphere and still see each other regularly? I returned to Colorado pondering this thought, and feeling just enormously lucky for my Park Service family, my German family, my biological family, and my Colorado family; and for the ability to visit with all of them in the span of a single weekend.
Man, life is good.