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.