Family Doesn’t Have To Be Blood

Alyson Zawisza

My family isn’t very big. At the core of it, it has always been me, my Mom, and my Gram. The two of them raised me but it wasn’t without a little help. My mom says that it takes a village and it did. My mom is a single parent (an amazing and strong one at that) and had to do a lot on her own. But for some reason, raising me was not one of them. While my life lacks in an extended, biological family, I have never run short of people that stepped in to fill the space. Call it God or whatever you like but whatever it is, it has always put beautiful people in my path that have become a special part of my life… my family.

It started when I was very young, about three. My mom couldn’t be there to watch me all the time and that’s when Chicky was sent to us. She watched me for years. It was with her that I found my love for The Grinch and she showed me that no matter what, Love is always in the Air! When I was five years old, I met Deb at a tag sale. She had a table of glassware for sale that I insisted on cleaning for her as she was bottle feeding several orphaned kittens. I stayed with her the entire day. My interest and love for animals began with her and opened a new world for me, even at a young age. I quickly got involved in the no kill cat shelter she runs called Cat Tales. Deb, her husband Mike, my mom, and me became very close right away. My mom brought me there to volunteer before my afternoon kindergarten class and have been volunteering with them ever since. Through my work at Catales, I met Middletown ACO Gail and her husband Scott, two incredible people with even more incredible hearts who have always been there to offer their support and their time when I just need someone to talk to. Soon I met Cheri and Dr. Holdmeyer. They have collectively taught me everything I know within the veterinary field. They believe in me and push me to be the best I can be.

Grace flew into my life when I was about twelve, after she and my Mom went on a mission trip with our church together.  Being a bird rehabilitator, she brought me under her wing, teaching me all she knew about birds. A few years later, looking for someone to take an abandoned squirrel, in came Wendi, a wildlife rehabilitator. She expanded my knowledge and taught me so many things about wild animals. Squirrels, mice, opossum, woodchucks and even skunks.  Both of these women are beautiful people that dropped into my life out of nowhere, to share their incredible passions with me.

Hendu came into my life in high school, he was my soccer coach. If you had asked me when I was a freshman if I thought he would have any presence in my life, I would have said no. But now I can tell you that he was someone that got me through a part of my life that was incredibly hard, offering guidance, listening to me, and letting me use his arm as a punching bag once. Like he says, “Sometimes you just really need to hit something”. Mrs. Pagan, my English teacher, entered my life in high school as well, quickly becoming a close friend and special person in my life. She taught me to be myself and believe in myself and never faltered to be there for me when I needed her.

As I have been blessed with all these people, I was also blessed with a variety of “Aunts” and “Uncles”. They may not be related to me by blood, but they might as well be. From a very young age my mom’s close friends became my family. My Auntie Gail and Uncle Chrisom, Auntie Cheryl and Uncle Mike, Auntie Margie, Karen, Lynn and Heather, have always been there to make me laugh, offer guidance, and support. I feel safe knowing that they all have my back and always will.

Each and every one of these incredible people are the reason for my successes and have made me into the person I am today. They are the reason I am here in Ireland. And just when I didn’t think that my support group could get any better than this, it did. My homestay family is a blessing, a loving group of people placed in my path for a reason. They have made this experience so much better than I thought it could be. They welcomed me with open arms the very first day and have continued to welcome me into their lives. Over the past three months they have been my family, caring for me and treating me as one of their own. They have been there to listen to me vent, make me laugh, teach me, offer advice, console me when times got hard, and to take me out to have fun (which is greatly needed every once in a while). It’s hard to be away from home for so long in a place that is unfamiliar, but they have made it so much easier. I am especially grateful for my irreplaceable Irish Mummy. With you, one chocolate is never enough and thank God for that! Once again, I have been blessed with exceptional people, that are not related by blood but have become a part of my family. Thank you to each and every one of you for coming into my life.

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