I’m a word nerd. I love the sound of words and how the varying combinations of consonants and vowels have unique and specific meaning. But sometimes English fails me. I’m left scrounging for a concept or word that doesn’t exist. For example, there’s no word to describe sunlight sparkling on the ocean. There’s no word for finding forgotten money in a pocket. There’s no word for the moment when your child finally gets the courage to jump off the high dive, yet lands with a belly flop. And there’s no word for in-laws who defy the rules of divorce by deciding to continue calling you their daughter and loving you and their grandchildren with unadulterated abandon.
Ex-in-law seems too sad and impoverished a name for these kinds of folks. And these folks happen to be my ex-in-laws. So, I’ve shoplifted a word from Merriam Webster and dubbed my ex-in-laws the “Outlaws.” My mother-outlaw guffawed the first time I tested her new title. My own-mother would have peed her pants. It’s tongue and cheek, for sure, but also fitting for a set of parents who not once, but twice, expanded their definition of love and family instead of allowing it to shrivel and shrink.
Just last week, our motley crew gathered to celebrate my step-daughter’s graduation from high school. We met at a Mexican restaurant and gobbled down chips and salsa and conversation for hours as everyone laughed and mingled. Among us were the graduate’s paternal and maternal grandparents, the original set of parents, two step parents, four half siblings and, of course, the graduate herself.
For all intents and purposes, we are the very definition of a failed family since only one of the original marriages remains intact. But I’m starting to believe our family is more like a belly flop that ends as a swan dive. The grace is that my outlaws have chosen the most expansive view of love and family and we’re all following their lead. If that’s not a rare and rebellious act, I don’t know what is. Perhaps we get to be creative with love and family in the same way we get to be creative with words. If so, my outlaws are showing the way.