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The making of families

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During morning assemblies, students would profess their love for their dense and ever-growing lineages, be it for birthdays, good luck wishes, or just to say "hello" or "can you please return my skirt?" It was impossible to remember who was whose "child" or "aunt" or "uncle"; their imagined families were so complex it was hard to believe they weren't making them up as they went along.

About two weeks into the quarter, class monitors were chosen who would act as guidance counselors for their given grades. The sophomore class chose a new volunteer, named James. Subsequently, he became the "daddy" for the entire class and though it could be jarring, it was not unusual for me to hear a young 10th-grade girl call out, "Daddyyyy! I need to use the bathroom!!!" in the middle of one of my lectures a few classrooms away. Because James and I were friends, and high-schoolers are alike all over, it didn't take long for them to concoct the story that the two of us were married. Congratulations; I was a mom.

"Mommy, can you help me with these test corrections?" asked one of my students, a short, bubbly girl named V-Ann, poking her head into my sweltering office, dimly lit except for a flickering flashlight and the last vestiges of sunset.

"V-Ann, let me ask you a question – you already have a mom right? At home? Like, a real one?" I realized immediately how incoherent I must have sounded, but the curiosity was plaguing me.

V-Ann stared at me.

"I also hear you call Erika your mom, right?" I continued hesitantly, referring to another student.

V-Ann cocked her chubby head, considering me with her big, inquisitive eyes. The freckles around her dark nose receded as she backed away from the light.

"I just don't understand why you keep calling me 'Mom.' I'm not really your mom. I mean I don't mind it – but, is it like a game? I just don't really get it."

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