step-parenting


The High School Sweethearts

From time to time  the oldest daughter would shyly announce that she’d “met a boy”.  Sometimes that’d be it. But occasionally a date or two-ish followed only for said “boy” to be quickly banished for his clinging ways or over-enthusiastic interest in her.

One thing about both of my step-daughters that struck me early is that neither one has a clear picture of themselves in relationship to how others see them.  Attention and enthusiasm seem to puzzle them.

That young men notice them is no surprise to me.  Each in her own way is a bright light that naturally draws the eye and incites interest.

The “boy” in question turned out to be the older brother of a friend.  I can’t recall if they’d met previously, but they collided with some force at a party, which found them sitting on the roof, deep in conversation for five hours.

“He thinks I’m funny,” she chirped bemusedly.

He probably thinks you are quite beautiful too, I thought but knew better than to say aloud.

“Anyway,” she continued, “we have a date.”

And we didn’t hear about “the boy” again for some weeks.

Edie will be 28 on Thanksgiving (the Canadian one) this year. Her age and singleness have been a growing concern – to her. Rob was unconcerned. His ambivalence about the girls and “boys” is amusing and reminds me a lot of my own father, who had little visible interest in his children’s marital status*.

I tried to be encouraging without being nosy. I am not her mother. Although we have a good relationship, it is not a deep one. She has her confidants, and I am unlikely to be added to the list. That’s okay. I don’t have expectations of being a mother-like figure for her. I came into her life late, and we simply haven’t had, and most probably won’t have, opportunities to bond in that way.

But I wasn’t surprised that a “boy” would find her funny, want to take her out or discover a way to pursue her without sending her in search of her hidey-hole in the hills. That clever “boy” was bound to show up some day.

On Father’s Day, Edie brought him up again. She’d just gotten back from a long weekend in the States, and he surprised her with wine and flowers.

“He missed me,” she blushed a bit.

At the end of a Sunday supper visit later in the summer, I inquired about whether she would be bringing the “boy”, who now had a name which peppered her conversation, to visit.

“It’s too soon for that,” she said.

And I let it go, but I told Rob I expected we’d meet this “boy” by Thanksgiving.

“I wouldn’t be too sure about that,” he replied.

Christmas at the latest perhaps, but I am guessing sooner rather than later,” I said.

She brought him around for Rob’s birthday at the end of August. A bit sooner than I thought, and the significance of the occasion wasn’t lost, even on her father.

We knew a lot about him by then.

Edie had breathlessly updated Rob as he lay in the hospital the night of his heart attack. Worried perhaps that she wouldn’t have another chance?

At one point during her gushing, Mick leaned over to me and said, “I wish she’d just marry him and shut up about it.”

Silver is a paragon though this is no surprise as like as he is to Rob.

He is handy. Renovating his first house and flipping it for his current fixer-upper. He’s outdoorsy. Good with the romantic gestures and sweeping a girl off her feet moves in a way that cast me back to my early days knowing Rob.

The clincher, I think, was an extended weekend camping trip he planned for the two of them.

“He’s doing everything,” she said. “And I don’t even have to drive!”

So familiar. The keepers must all get the same playbook handed to them before they embark on a new existence.

His first Sunday dinner with us was enlightening as it was vindicating. He was, however, not what any of us had envisioned.

Rob feigned indifference to the potentially momentous occasion.

“I’ve met boyfriends before,” he said.

“But have they had good jobs, their own transportation and owned property?” I asked.

“Good point,” he said.

And upon first glance, he was handsome with pants that sat at his waist and a ball-cap that just about hid his Dermot Mulroney eyes.

During their first conversation, Silver explained to Rob that he liked to do all the renovation work himself because he was “too cheap to pay someone”, and I had to turn around and find something to do in the dining room to keep from laughing out loud where I found Mick snickering knowingly.

When I commented on that revelation later, Rob simply said,

“Don’t go there.”

Barely a week later, a Facebook message from Edie announced their intention to come to dinner again.

“Why so soon?” I asked. “What’s up?”

“Maybe they just want to spend time with us,” Rob said. “There doesn’t have to be something up.”

But of course there was. The children want to spend time with us only about every six weeks more or less.

I am not Edie’s mother but I did watch** them carefully that first supper. Silver had eyes or a hand on her at all times, and I have seen that look before. It’s the one that says everything in the world that will ever matter is right in front of you, and you still can’t quite believe it.

The second dinner was a family dinner. Teasing and stories and protests that nothing more can possibly be consumed even as hands move to refill plates.

Nothing out of the ordinary.

Until we were at the door, Mick, Silver and Edie saying their good nights. Edie suddenly threw her arms around her Dad’s neck and said,

“So …” Long pause and deep breath expelling a rush of words she’d clearly rehearsed. “I’m moving in with Silver at the end of October.”

Rob blinked but said nothing. This produced a slightly less breathless rush to fill the gap as Edie began to expound on the foolishness of renting a place she was never at anymore and that finding a sublet had been easy and that Rob wouldn’t have to move the couch again – in case he was worried about that.

“Well, I’m certainly not helping with that couch again,” Mick chimed in.

My heart sank a bit at the “rent saving” reason. I don’t think that money should ever be the motivating factor for couples to co-habitate. It should always be based on love, and the realization that a shared journey is the only option for them even if achieving this means scrapping one life, or both, to rebuild the new one together.  Expense, logistics, degree of difficulty are to be treated as details only. And then Silver broke into her monologue with

“And she likes me.”

And she does more than that. She’s giving up the city, her beloved neighborhood of Whyte Ave to move to the suburbs. Her sensible speech was for Rob because all his daughters from oldest to smallest value his opinion and respect and want him to approve and be proud.

“Well, I told you so,” I said.

The next day Rob asked,

“How long have they been seeing each other again?”

“How long did we know each other before we were engaged and I was leaving the U.S. and everything I knew?” I said.

“We weren’t kids,” he countered, “but good point.”

“They aren’t kids. Twenty-eight and thirty-two are firmly in adult territory.”

“Good point again.”

“He’s good for her. She loves him,” I said, “and he fits.”

And now that I have officially blogged about him – he’s family.

*Save for that of my youngest sister. Her habit of breeding with men she either wasn’t interested in marrying or those who were not interested in marrying her drove him to distraction periodically.

**I watch because I care deeply about her happiness and because I have this inexplicable sense of obligation to Shelley to keep watch in her absence. It’s something only mothers would understand, I think.


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.


As we were preparing Rob’s carb-laden breakfast in bed tray this morning, Katy diligently prepared the card she’d picked out for him, a Transformer theme with Optimus Prime on the front that said “Transformer, unite.”, or something like that.

I had written out what she wanted to say on another piece of paper and she copied it proudly.

I love you Daddy.

I had checked with her first on whether it was to be “Daddy” or “Rob”. She mainly calls him Rob but there are more and more instances of her addressing him as Dad or Daddy and she mostly refers to him that way.

She wanted to go with daddy.

“I need to practice saying daddy,” she told me.

Interesting. A few months ago she’d resolved to call him “Poppi” like Dora the Explorer does with her father. That really went nowhere. Now it is dad and with Jordan living at home again for a while, I don’t doubt that her calling Rob dad all the time will speed up Katy’s processing a bit more.

People who know our story – Katy’s and mine – like family and close friends – are thrilled that she has a father. They don’t seem to think that I have pushed Will, Katy’s biological father, out of the picture by allowing her to form a father/daughter relationship with my new husband. They see it as a win-win. I have found love and contentment and Katy has a father who loves her.

Given my own state of being as an adopted child, I don’t understand the whole “biology” thing. I have talked about this before. The people who love and care for you are family. The people who raise you are your parents. Biology is not a guarantee and its worship in our society leads to the devaluing of families who fall outside the “norm”, leading children who don’t have biological ties to their parents feeling “less than”.

I remind Katy still from time to time – and she me – how lucky we are to have had first Will and now Rob in our lives. We talked a bit about Will today at lunch. He liked to cook and she found this very interesting. She hasn’t forgotten him and is unlikely to do so. Both Rob and I keep Will very much alive for her through the wall of photos she has in her bedroom and our willingness to discuss him.

She isn’t the least bit confused and her early conflict has faded into an acceptance that this is just how our lives are. Children are much more capable of an expansive heart and an open mind than we adults are, I think.