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It's been said over and over that the brains of young children are like sponges. Family is the moisture that soaks all of life's possibilities together. Jane However once said, "Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one."

This is the season for celebrating family. But what is a family?

There are those with and without blood relatives. There are those miles and continents apart. There are those who seek and find family from sources other than their biological background. There are those rescued from one family who are embraced by others.

Family members support and console each other. Sometimes that includes a church family, a neighborhood family, a family at work, or a health network "family." Family comes in an enormous variety of structures.

There will always be variety and strengths within each family. How is YOUR family doing?

Who in your family is a grumpy grouch in the morning? Who is a night owl? Who stays peppy most anytime, and who is more lethargic? Do you have a musician in the midst? An artist? A tinkerer? There is always one family member with strengths others long for.

One person in each family is always hurt more frequently, in surgery more often, struggling with health or emotional issues, or fighting to avoid medical care. Count your blessings. Such is the typical, terrific, talented family.

What about money management? Someone in each family thrives on financial skills and working through whether the family is tight or loose with spending. There are families hastening to make it to the next hour (much less paycheck) and families juggling how to make investment decisions and prioritize spending.

All are terrific, talented and

typical families.

Who is your family's neat freak? Is there a genuine slob? Doesn't everyone have socks and underwear on the floor? Isn't at least one person compulsive about straightening and sanitizing surfaces? How wonderful - such is the life of a normal family.

Does your family have multiple parents? Lucky is the child with numerous grandparents and relatives that all tend to his needs. Count your blessings - you have a terrific, talented and typical family!

Where are you and your family from? Can you say a local spot? What about a particular state? What about being from Africa or Europe or Asia, or being of Native or other descent? What is your family heritage? How can we mend the racial and ethnic issues facing our global community? If you live with people grappling with these issues, count yourself lucky - you live in a terrific, talented and typical family.

Do you live in an apartment? Is yours a wood or brick or stone home? A trailer home? A shelter? A box? A car? Can you imagine families who are without safe places to rest or relax? Can you celebrate the wealth most terrific, talented, typical families have? Count your blessings and celebrate sharing resources, especially in this season of giving and gratitude.

How is your tolerance for those of other faiths? How can the world turn us all into being one body even while choosing to celebrate differently? Religion and politics are topics of discussion that seem to create conflict. Yet how lucky each of us is to study and know other perspectives. "In God we trust" is on our currency and part of the legacy of the United States. As the population seems to grow rapidly, and the world seems to shrink as people travel to all continents, there is passion and dire need to understand and celebrate that we are from different faiths and different backgrounds, and yet all of the beliefs work. You are from a terrific, talented and typical family if conversations include these topics.

What about those with disabilities? We are one people. People come in all shapes, sizes and abilities. Count your blessings for the skills of what you and others are able to do - you live in a terrific, talented and typical family!

Children in our global community need a family to thrive in and to nourish their development. Infants and children learn more in the first four years of life than at any other time. Infants seek and delight in snuggles, food and care. Preschoolers thrive in classrooms that celebrate all of the same strengths family members have. A typical classroom has an area for art, an area for community building, for literacy, for math, for science, for meals, for listening, for singing and dancing, for dramatic play, for solitude, and for high-energy activities. By kindergarten, children really do grapple with all the strengths, weaknesses, and skills to develop into a family and a community. How lucky is the child who is well nourished in healthy rituals. How lucky is the child rescued into a family that enriches possibilities for the future. Count your blessings and know that you live in a terrific, talented and typical family.

Seasons of our lives come and go. Enjoy seeking and finding a family that cherishes others. Enjoy reaching out to others. Cherish your family and seek out those who support you in a positive way. Enjoy learning about people throughout the world and most of all enjoy your own terrific, talented and typically developing family.

Each month the Missoulian Health page features a column by the Healthy Start Council of the Missoula Forum for Children and Youth, a coalition of groups and individuals working collaboratively to help Missoula's kids grow up to be healthy and resilient. Head Start is a member of the Healthy Start Council that serves about 400 low-income children and families each year. Joan Kuehn is an education coordinator at Child Start Inc., the Missoula Head Start program, and can be reached at 728-5460, Ext. 117, or at joan.kuehn@childstartinc.net.

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