Do you have an adopted family?

Does sharing the same DNA make someone family, or is family forged from the bonds of love and support?

The conception of my baby follows an interesting (at least to me) story. She is a 575 pound black beauty. And she is not a polar bear who just frolicked in mulch, but my baby grand piano.

My husband Andrew bribed me to move to what seems to a girl who spent her formative years in Boston and LA to the remote north — Winnipeg — by offering to acquire a baby grand piano. In the end I really saved up for this purchase with a significant portion of a year of my postdoc salary. Ahh, but baby was she worth it!

I started playing pianos in the piano show room about a year before I purchased her. I toyed with electric alternatives to an acoustic baby grand that our apartment might accommodate. I played all the pianos in the showroom regularly and became a familiar face to the salesman there. We started looking for a house around the time we started to search for my baby. Finally we found the perfect house to become home for baby with a long living/dining room combination (though this house turned out to have serious unanticipated problems) and six months later after hedging and hesitating, I purchased my shiny black baby grand. It was the only piano on which I could play Chopin’s Prelude in e minor No 4 without the repetitive chords sounding choppy but rather legato. Pedalling is tricky in that piece. The salesman stated that the piece brought him to tears, and this was my piano, but I think it was my frequent presence in his store without a purchase that precipitated any emotion. Before the piano was delivered, I showed colleagues at work pictures in the catalog of my baby, akin to a proud parent showing off ultrasounds.

Having lived a nomadic academic life, we have been forced to find friends in each new city and develop new relationships. Whatever loops and hills we have encountered, we have won the trials together, with the cats we have had since 1999, and with the support of friends. My husband, cats, and friends do not share DNA, but we have developed bonds and the unconditional support that defines what true family should be. We discovered deeper bonds in our Winnipeg friends after my baby settled in.

It turns out taking care of my baby became difficult as the dry Winnipeg fall progressed. I bought a hydrometer which said the humidity was dropping below 30% (a digital one purchased later indicated it was more like 20%). This instigated midnight trips to the local pharmacy for ultrasonic humidifiers. It became very challenging to maintain the humidity. In the end I had a collection of about six such humidifiers costing more than I’d like to admit of various degrees of technology and types.

Then there was this white dust collecting on my baby. She came with a strangely shaped long red cloth which I used to dust her daily. I later learned from my tuner that this rough cloth would eventually dull her polish. It was intended to cover and protect the keyboard.

I would dust my baby up to five times a day. The tuner informed me the ultrasonic humidifiers were releasing the mineral dust. That necessitated a trip for wick humidifiers. I ended up with two small such humidifiers and two giant ones (I nicknamed them the mother ships), one of which is enough to humidify the entire storeroom at a local piano store. I bought microfiber dusters and baby has been dust free since.

During this time, our furnace failed. Not what you want in November in Winnipeg. A friend answered a call after 9PM and kindly took us to a store to buy space heaters, not for our comfort but for baby’s. We later took her and her boyfriend out for lunch, but her kindness at answering our plea for assistance defines the true meaning of friendship to me. Our house might have been cold, but the hearts of our Winnipeg friends were warm.

Soon after the night time visits to purchase humidifiers and heaters, we departed on vacation. Twice a day our neighbors, who have since become dear friends, came to take care of my baby (and the cats) and refill the mother ships. I fretted that they might forget and fretted about the inconvenience I had inflicted on them, though of course they were extremely gracious and generous. Again, I felt the warmth of friendship and support.

Baby’s adventure was far from over. During the summer the perfect house manifested serious construction needs, and she moved to another generous and caring friend’s house where Andrew and I were staying. The move was difficult, and at one point she tipped. She suffered only a scratch and still sounded gorgeous once I played her, safe in my friend’s living room. My husband, baby, and I are now back home and ready to commence our next adventure, which is of the musical variety of Grade 8 repertoire in piano and Grade 7 in voice. Despite her trauma, when I play a chromatic scale on her, each note is as even as a string of pearls. Even the scratch was repaired and the whole ordeal of the moves, the humidifiers (now she has her own built-in humidifier), and the cleaning cloths are in the rear view mirror.

I learned that even my baby grand could be healed after trauma. Despite the fact that we were displaced, we had developed a friendship with our dear friend who would not only take us in but our piano as well. This and our other experiences with the house and baby in the last year is empirical evidence that we have some very good friends who are part of our family here in Winnipeg. The weather outside might be frigid, but as they say, it makes these Canadians have warm hearts.

I must admit I never wanted to depend on others. My express goal as a child was to mature into a self sufficient independent adult. As I age, I find myself depending more and more on others. Someone once suggested that perhaps dependence doesn’t have to be a dirty word. As I noted at a conference when I first saw Stephen Hawking being served his tea, everyone is dependent, even the best of them. So, perhaps instead of loathing what dependence I experience, I can embrace the fact that people care enough about me to help take care of me. These are the people I feel proud to consider among my family, in addition to the ones with whom I share odd traits despite displacements in time and space. And perhaps it is the family that chooses us, and loves us despite our quirks and eccentricities, that counts the most.

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