Blending families

I know it’s Tuesday and from a fresh news perspective Dee’s first day of school yesterday, the “growing” push for Texan succession and the latest Glenn Beck YouTube parody – except it’s really him and not terribly funny – will all pass the smell test and what I want to talk about won’t. And I’m sure at least half of you are tired of the blending and the widowy, but things come up. They run around the rooms in my mind before burrowing in and blossoming with the rapidity of qwack grass after a soaking rain.

Saturday was the hamlet wide garage sale and hockey swap meet. There is nothing like a dozen or so neighbors displaying their junk and the lure of hockey equipment to bring out the crowds from The Fort. Rob and I, being us, worked until after 10 on Friday night setting up. Other people toss their unwanted onto tables and are done. We treat it like it’s a real business or something. Consequently, other people get more sleep than we do.

By the time we’d cleaned up and were in bed it was after midnight and the plan was to be up by eight to finish the remaining pricing.  At 4:30 I woke. My right leg was stretched across Rob’s side of the bed and the toes were dangling off which is something that can only happen if Rob is not there.

The dimmest bit of light was straining to lift the blinds and I headed downstairs in search of my husband (and to use the toilet because I am old).  At this time of day the sky is bruised by the indirect light of a sun still too far east to do more than send word of its impending arrival. Such a difference from just a few weeks ago when the sun never seemed to set at all.

I found Rob wrapped in our old comforter on the couch.  He was grumpy from lack of sleep and the fact that the sadist train engineer had just crawled past the hamlet with the whistle at full throttle.

“I’d just managed to fall asleep too,” he said.

He’d been up since two. For reasons he didn’t explain until much later, he was up and couldn’t fall back to sleep. He hadn’t wanted to wake me tossing and turning, so he’d gone downstairs, fiddled about on the ‘Net until his eyes burned and tried to catch a few winks on the sofa.

I got him to come back to bed. He was so exhausted by this point that he fell asleep quickly, but I was awake. I got up at 5:30 and was out in the garage by 6:45 and that is mostly where I remained until 3P.M.

But I did come in a bit before 8 to wake Rob who thought perhaps I had a birthday present  for him despite the fact that he’d issued a no present edict earlier in the week. The next day he would say,

“It was probably one of the worst birthdays ever.”

So much for birthdays not being a big deal.

We’d planned dinner in the city with the older girls for seven that evening. It should go without saying that neither of us was energetic enough to really be looking forward to the 45 minute drive – each way – but the sitter had been booked. Last minute sitter cancellations can lead to difficulty finding willing sitters, so we headed into the city.

Let me digress a minute. Earlier in the week, Rob noted that I had been commenting a bit more on widow blogs. He wondered if I was okay. I was heavy into the memory mode with purging old things for the garage sale. On the surface I felt fine but after a bit of reflection, I realized I was a bit blue about Rob’s birthday. Not that it was his and not mine. I actually love planning parties for other people more than I like celebrating my own birthday. It came down to the fact that we were having two celebrations to accommodate the children. We took Dee out for dinner on Friday night and had cake upon returning home. Saturday was with the older girls because their adult schedules sometimes make it too difficult for them to always be traipsing out to the country.

The thing was that Rob has three daughters, but I have one. As much as I love Edee and Mick, they are not my daughters. I am not their mother. My birthday doesn’t mean anything at all to them. Which is not to imply that I think it should or that they are not wonderful or that we have a contentious relationship. But where Dee becomes more Rob’s child than Will’s, they remain Rob’s daughters.

It’s not something I expected to bother me. I knew perfectly well that, with their being adults, we would not have the relationship that Rob and Dee have formed and will continue to form. And I get it. I really do. One of the reasons I have shied away from searching for my birth parents – my birth mother in particular – was that I didn’t want to feel bound to love her like I love my mom or to have expectations of any deep connection.

And though we get along quite well and the girls are genuine and warm, I know they struggle with just who I am in their lives.

The word “step-mother” is not used. I am introduced as “Ann” or sometimes “This is Ann, Dad’s wife.”

And to clarify further, no one uses the “step” prefix in our family aloud really. Dee doesn’t even know what a step-dad or step-sister is.

I am ever conscious of my actions and words. I don’t want to push or encroach or presume or give the impression. I walked into this with more knowledge than Rob, who at one point declared himself willing to be Dee’s father figure but that he could never be her father father.

We stopped by Edee’s to pick her up. She’d been home with her cat, one of Bouncy’s brood if you recall, who was at death’s door from a blood parasite she’d picked up. And I mean the literal door. Pandora was at a point where she was using her reserves to try and crawl away from wherever Edee put her – looking no doubt for a place to die. Even I know enough about animals to know that.

Dinner was back and forth between pleasant conversation and tearful worry. There was hugging and reassurance and I never know when I am doing too much or not enough.

We’d told the sitter we’d be home between 10 and 10:30 and it was 11 because after dinner at Edee’s poor Pandora was no better. We finally left after assuring Edee that whatever she decided to do concerning Pandora’s care  we would support. The naturopath vet had prescribed an antibiotic with herbal back up and instructions to bring the cat in on Monday if she was no better but still alive or a trip to the emergency vet clinic, an expensive affair that makes a jaunt to the human ER in the states look affordable by comparison.

Rob called me from the car after dropping off the sitter to let me know that Edee had texted him and needed him to go along to the ER with her and Pandora. He didn’t get home until about 2:30 where he found me still awake.

Why? The ghosts are back … but then he already knew that.

My not quite seven year old daughter refers to my husband by his first name for the most part. To her friends and teachers he is “daddy”, however, and though I went through a phase of referring to him as “daddy” for her benefit – as well as my own – I don’t anymore at the request of my husband. He felt that the relationship he has with Kat should progress as it progresses without undue influence from me.

The other day as I lay on my flu/death bed, Kat came into the bedroom to inform me I had spelled her last name incorrectly. She had just collected her “mail” and was holding up the little note I had written to welcome her home from school. Kat loves mail. She has attached a small box to her bedroom door and instructed Rob and I to leave all mail for her there. All mail that we are expected to write her on a regular basis that is. I have to admit, Rob is far more diligent a correspondent than I am.
“I spelled it the way I always have,” I said as she held the paper out for me to see.
“But that’s not right,” she told me.
It took me a moment, but then the light went off. She expected to see Rob’s last name.

Early on in our relationship Rob and I discussed him adopting Kat though we have yet to begin the paperwork. Kat was consulted then too and assented without any fuss except for one thing – she wanted her last name to stay the same. That was fine with Rob. He believes she shouldn’t have to change her name and that she is too young to make the choice even if she expressed an interest in taking his name. 

Until the other day, Kat hasn’t had any interest in Rob’s last name.

The experts say that it takes three to five years to successfully “blend” families in second marriages. My husband thinks that families don’t blend as much as they simply get used to and grow accustomed to each other. Or not. I think that the idea of blending applies to all families regardless of their formation.

As far as family goes, our three girls – his two adult daughters and my wee one – have folded into our new unit with far less trauma than I have observed in other situations. Rob attributes it to our presenting ourselves as a united front that comes first but more so to the fact that our girls have been raised properly. I think we deserve a little credit too. We have tried to listen and accommodate and give the kids the space they needed to adjust and acknowledge that there is still adjusting to do. In any event, they have grown used to our situation much more gracefully than than some of their elders in the extended family have.

It has not always been as easy as it might appear to anyone simply peering in. All five of us came to this new family as a result of the death of a loved one and that grieving is ongoing and, with the kids especially, it will manifest over and over as they encounter the normal milestones in their lives. But we are no different from any other family in that we are five individuals with needs and wants that will not always match up perfectly.

Kat’s declaration caught me a bit off guard. I never really expected her to want to try out Rob’s last name at such a young age. As a middle school teacher, I encountered many children who used their step-father’s last name even though all their official paperwork had the name they were born with on it. Teens, and pre-teens even, are prone to identifying closely – or completely shunning – a step-parent in my experience. I didn’t think the name issue would come up before Kat was in junior high.

I know there is a sizable majority who would counsel against allowing Kat to change her last name. They would cite her age, but most would insist that her late father’s last name is something she owes him. Fortunately, this is not a decision for today. It’s not one we have to have for a long time to come. And ultimately it isn’t a “we” decision. It’s Kat’s decision. And I will honor that decision, no matter what it is.

She and I talked about it a bit and then I let the matter drop. She hasn’t brought it up again. Rob raised an eyebrow when I told him but hasn’t said anything one way or another. I don’t have to wonder what Kat’s late father would have thought. He would have hated the idea. And I wonder just how much I have to take this into account because, frankly, he’s dead. This isn’t his life; it’s his daughter’s. At this point, Rob has been her father in the active sense longer than my late husband was. Rob is the one she consciously imitates and seeks to impress. It’s his world view she will absorb before utterly rejecting it as a teenager and then re-embracing the parts of it that mesh with her own as a young adult. Being a parent is more than DNA and being someone’s daughter is more than sharing a last name, or not.



This is an original 50 Something Moms post.

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I have never pretended that I ever wanted to parent on my own. As a matter of fact when I turned 31, I actually spent a few months comtemplating  single parenthood. Not because it was becoming a trendy thing, but because I really couldn’t imagine not having a child of my own. I came to the conclusion though that it was too daunting a task and much too unfair to a child to go it alone. 


Imagine my surprise when the fates went ahead and made a single mom of me anyway.


It isn’t that I am not good at it. I am commended right and left for what a wonderful child I have, but I often wonder if they are merely saying that and the unspoken part of the sentence is “for not having a father..” Because the truth is that my little girl is headstrong and spoiled. I have been too distracted and too tired and just too grief-stricken to hold the lines that needed holding as often as they should have been held.


Case in point is that she still sleeps with me. She has slept with me almost from the beginning. I am assured by other two parent families that children do sleep with their parents. It is more common than the majority let on and that eventually they all sleep on their own.


I feel like a failure nonetheless.


Neither I nor any of my siblings ever slept with our parents in their bed. Their bedroom as a matter of fact was strictly off-limits. I have memories of hovering in the doorway to their room and asking to be allowed in. Even in the middle of the night. Even if I was ill. I never even tried to broach the door if I had a bad dream. I would just pull the covers over my head and grip them tightly to prevent whatever monster I had dreamt of from gaining entry.


I bring this up only because I worry that this bad habit I have left to its own devices will become more of an issue once the summer comes and we are in Canada with Rob. He is patient when it comes to my parenting skills, but he is far and away the expert. It must take quite a toll on his inner Virgo to tactfully approach subjects concerning my daughter. 


We had a semi-conversation about sleeping arrangements tonight on the phone, and although he brought up nothing I hadn’t already thought about, I still felt bad afterwards because I know firsthand that no one was ever meant to do this by themselves.


I wonder more often than not who she would be if there had been two of us raising her.