The Blended Family

August 29, 2011 § 9 Comments

As of 2001, there were more than half a million stepfamilies in Canada*. If you ever would’ve told me I’d find myself as part of one, I never would’ve believed you. I had a mom, a dad and a brother. For all intents and purposes, our family seemed like every other. We ate dinner together, spent family holidays travelling between one set of grandparents or another, my mom or dad would drive us to our various sporting events and activities. Nobody fought (except for Wayne and I, but it’s what siblings are supposed to do!) No one seemed unhappy.

I remember driving home for Thanksgiving in my second year of university with my mom. On the way home she said she had something to tell me. “Your father and I are separated,” she disclosed. “But he’ll be there for Thanksgiving dinner.” Separated? The word rung loudly in my ears the rest of the way home. What? Why? How?

To find myself, at 19, facing parents who were separated, who might potentially get a divorce, seemed ludicrous. My brother and I were no longer at home, which meant they’d already made it through the hard stuff, right?

I won’t pretend to understand the ins and outs of a marriage, I’ve never been in one after all. Nor will I attempt to dissect the various elements that may or may not have led to their separation. That’s not my role in this story. Nono, my role is the one of the daughter. The one who lost her only brother seven some odd years ago and somewhere along the line found herself with six stepbrothers and stepsisters. Yes, six! Let’s not forget the four stepnieces and one stepnephew. A little overwhelming perhaps? Potentially.

Not long after my parents split up, I remember heading to a party with Wayne. On the way there, he turned to me and asked:

“Did Mom and Dad splitting up surprise you?”

“No,” I replied, “I kind of saw it coming.”

“It sure surprised me.”

That’s the only bit of conversation him and I ever had on the subject. Wayne was about 4 years ahead of me in school, you see. And so he hadn’t been at home in the end. Not that anything bad had happened during that time, but after a bit of reflection, it was obvious to me that my parents had drifted apart long ago. Wayne wasn’t home for that part.  No wonder it caught him by surprise.

Fast forward to 2004, I’m pretty sure both of my parents had started dating their current partners by then. Neither of their partners got to meet Wayne, which is unfortunate. It’s an opportunity I wish everyone could’ve had. Though sometimes bull-headed, and frankly, a bit of a jerk at times, I think all of y’all would’ve really enjoyed him. Damn was he funny. But, this post isn’t about him, no, in this post he’s merely a part of a larger story.

It’s hard to put into words the turmoil of emotions I felt from that point and into the coming years. The relationships each of my parents were in continued to evolve. I met the children of each partner. I played along, met the new stepsiblings and hung out with them on special occasions, like Christmas. They were nice. But it’s hard to get to know new siblings as a young adult. Especially when I couldn’t help but feel like I’d be forgetting my real sibling if I let the others in too much.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve bonded with my stepsister and one of my stepbrothers on my mom’s side. My stepbrother has even come house boating with my cousins and I the last couple of summers. He’s also doing a decent job of stepping up as a big brother, complete with the harassment I’ve been missing! My two “wicked” stepsisters on my dad’s side, well, they’re both married with kids and in a phase of life I’m still not in. It’s a bit harder to relate to them. But they’re a fun pair and it’s difficult not to enjoy myself around them.

Throughout it all, I’ve felt like the only person not quite ready to move on. My family had been split apart and I had lost the only person who would’ve possibly known what it was all like. The only one who would’ve still been with me in the other family, the one that fell apart. For a long time, I felt like I didn’t have a place. I was on the outskirts of both sides, but not a true member of either. My best friend and her family, and my cousins back in Saskatchewan became the consistencies I clung to for stability while the rest of my world shifted and tilted around me. For even a grown up child needs stability somewhere in her life when what she’s always known is in a gargantuan state of flux.

A few weeks ago, my dad and my stepmom made things official by tying the knot. At the wedding, I stood up for my dad and my stepmom’s two girls stood up for her. If you were watching me closely during the ceremony, you’d have seen a great many tears in my eyes. But they were a mixture of emotion. Emotion in memory of the sibling that was missing, the one that was a stranger to this new family, but also a strong sense of belonging. There was a new family being formed, and just like my two stepsisters, I’ve got an equal part to play.

After the wedding, one of my stepsisters came over and said that one of my stepnieces had whispered to her as she looked carefully around the room: “Mommy, I know who my new Auntie is… it’s Wendy.” Nieces and nephews? I never thought I’d have any. Now there are five of them. And one of them already thought to call me Auntie. It’s a weird feeling… yet a wonderful one.

My dad’s speech at the wedding was short. He may have uttered 3 or 4 words more than this, but in essence, he said, “Thank you for making this easy.” I think the fact that it was a very gradual transition, that they’d both raised some pretty wonderful kids (am I right?), and that him and my stepmom are just so gosh darned happy are what made it easy.

As the days have ticked past since the wedding, it’s been settling in on me just how permanent this new family is. It’s legal. It’s binding. My signature is on the marriage license as a witness to prove it. I experienced the creation of a new family, my new family. That might just mean it’s okay to open my heart and my life to these new people. It’s okay to move past the family and the brother that were, because it and him are still a part of me. And now, there are that many more people to love me, and me them.

*From Human Resources and Skills Development Canada

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Don’t Shop Til You Drop

August 22, 2011 § 7 Comments

“Slow down, you move too fast

You gotta make the morning last

Just kickin’ down the cobblestones

Lookin’ for fun and

Feelin’ groovy …”

That verse certainly won’t be found in any jingles from major retailers stocking and promoting Christmas gifts in August.

They are words, admittedly, from the much simpler times of 1966 when Simon and Garfunkel recorded the 59TH Bridge Street (Feelin’ Groovy) song on their Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme album.

Thinking of the rush toward Christmas that’s already begun and taking it easy on this Sunday four months ahead of The Big Day had me musing over the word thyme and its homophone (words that sound the same but have different spellings and meanings) partner time.

It seems no matter how much people vow each year to slow down and spend less on gift giving, many still get caught up in the Christmas shopping vortex earlier and earlier and spend more and more money.

No wonder kids are hardly done opening the newest version of electronic gaming gadgetry they received at Christmas (which was of no surprise since they’d lobbied for months) than they are clamouring for the latest and greatest of something else.

Are we really surprised when much of the mound of nicely wrapped presents on Dec. 25 becomes clutter within days?

A rant about excesses at Christmas is an old one that needs no further comment other than the increasing craze over one day of the year is symptomatic of the rest of life for those who let it.

Many of us seem to try to pack one more thing in our lives yet always think fondly of the simpler times, like the quick vacation or the spontaneous dinner out.

Who relishes the maxed-out credit card bill in January?

It blows my mind when I’m channel surfing and I see shows like Say Yes to the Dress and the wearing apparel being considered costs more than my entire wedding. Of course, I’ve been married 25 years now and I wonder how many of the couples on the show will still be wed a quarter century later.

It all seems to start out with graduation in kindergarten and by the end of elementary school, the expectation of an elaborate celebration has gone crazy. Getting only about half way through basic education warrants a gala bash with participants driven in a limo?

It’s no wonder kids want to be teenagers all too quickly, rush off to post-secondary education, often before they are ready, and can’t wait to become of age.

By 30, many people have sped through the first third of their lives without taking the chance to smell the roses … and by then, they are stuck in a routine.

Am I being a grumpy old man about this? I don’t think so. I like a party just as much as anyone and as age 51 is calling my name, I am still at a point where I think of all the things there are left to accomplish.

It just seems we build up expectations for big moments earlier and earlier in our lives and those of younger generations so nothing is really THAT special anymore.

As I was writing this blog, I saw this quote on a friend’s twitter post: “Be not afraid of growing slowly; be afraid only of standing still.” ~ Ancient Chinese Proverb.

Do these wise words and my commentary provide conflicting viewpoints? Absolutely not! There is a difference between enjoying and thriving on a fast pace and having your life spinning out of control so we lose sight of what’s important.

We really can pack one less meeting or email into a day. We can call an old friend out of the blue or take an impromptu Sunday drive. We don’t NEED to shop until we drop.

Rediscovery my purpose… by accident.

August 15, 2011 § 4 Comments

If there’s anything that life likes to do, it’s get increasingly busier. Sooner or later, we each wake up and think, “How did I get here?” That is, if we wake up to that fact at all. Although a busy life is not something I think any of us can avoid, it is possible to keep your ear to the ground and eye on the road to know when you’re swerving off track. Just like driving, it requires focus and attention when you’re behind the wheel. If you’ve got too many things going at once, you might find yourself in a heap on the side of the road sooner than you think.

I’m by no means crashing into a ditch, but I’ve felt myself slowly being pulled off course. In fact, I think I turned down a side road and lost my way for a while. I’ve been off on a different sort of adventure and the sounds of the main highway, that is, the road I had first set out on with a purpose in mind, were drawing more distant every day. I vaguely remembered what it once was, but was losing touch with that part of me. I’ve been wanting to make my way back, to remember what exactly I was after in the first place, but I didn’t know the way. At least not until, like a loud horn and beacon blazing through a thick fog, I was given a connection back to that place… and hence, a direction to head in.

I was reminded today of an experimental status I did on Facebook one day last year.  I used my status as a cancer fundraiser. Except instead of trying to get my network to support me, I asked them for their stories. In exchange for every story shared, I donated $2 to cancer research. The experiment was successful in my books. I had nearly 40 stories shared, and 4 other friends who stepped up to match my pledge. In total we raised close to $500… yep, you read that right. $500 from a Facebook status update.

About 10 months ago, I left my employ with ATCO and started a new adventure with Yelp, a business reviews website out of San Francisco. With this new challenge came a lot less available time for me to keep up many of the online activities I had been doing in my spare time. This, unfortunately, has included blog posts on The Muse and Views. Today, however, I was reminded of why I started the blog with David in the first place. My whole reason for blogging was partially that of healing, inspiring and sharing my ideas and thoughts, and partially in hopes of inspiring and helping others with my posts. I’m not sure when exactly I lost sight of that purpose, but I did. And because I did, it’s made trying to keep up the blog and the new job next to impossible.

What’s so special about today? Well, through a sponsorship we’re doing with Light The Night across Canada, my Facebook status experiment and how well it had worked was at the forefront of my mind. I wanted a way to engage Calgary’s Yelp Community the same way I had engaged my own personal network all those months ago. I recognized my knack for using communication tools in ways many don’t think of at first. It comes so naturally, it’s a part of who I am.

This was the beacon lighting my way back. That connection into myself that I won’t otherwise find. As much as I wish this blog were for you, it’s really, first and foremost, for me. And, with David’s reminder not to waste our talents, I’m making my way back.

Where Am I?

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