People and Places

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Becoming a step family is weird
So, my kids are someone’s stepchildren now. That’s weird, right? Well, maybe not weird for you, but it’s pretty weird for me.
This situation isn’t surprising, given the divorced nature of my relationship with the boys’ father. And I knew he was dating. And I knew when he got engaged. And knew when they decided on a wedding date. Hell, he even asked me for recommendations on wedding photographers.
We actually have a pretty good relationship, me and the ex. You see, when things came to a painful, obvious end, we knew we had to carry on civilly because of the kids. There was more than a decade of co-parenting to come, so why make each other miserable?
The end result of all that is my kids are stepkids. They have a stepmother and a stepsister now. And it’s just weird. It wasn’t that the ex got remarried. Seriously, I was thrilled he had found someone. He’s a good person, deserves happiness, blah, blah, blah.
Part of what was weirding me out was the word itself, especially when it was going to be applied to my kids. What is a step person anyway? It wasn’t something that struck me as positive. Did the origin of the word imply someone was stepped on or over? Was having a step person in your life considered a step down? A step up?
So away to the Internet I went. Apparently the word comes from the Old English “steop,” which indicated bereavement. Basically at that time, any child who lost a parent was considered an orphan. When the surviving parent remarried, the child was said to be in bereavement for the lost parent and thus a “steopchild.”
Well obviously in most cases when stepfamilies are formed these days, everyone is alive and well — just divorced. Hey, don’t judge. Things happen.
And it wasn’t like this was my first step-rodeo, to coin a phrase. Back in my other life, the ex’s mother got married. More accurately, remarried. So as adults, he gained a stepfather and I stepfather-in-law. And with that marriage came a stepsister and stepnephew, trailing the in-law part for me.
There was also the stepfather-in-law’s ex-wife and her husband — the step-sister-in-law’s mother and stepfather, making them my step-in-laws father’s monkey’s uncle … ??
Pretty much the whole system just fell apart, especially given the fact that my father-in-law was still good friends with his ex-wife and her new husband. That resulted in a lot of Fourth of July gatherings, random weekends and birthdays spent with them.
At first, when people asked me if I had plans for the weekend, I’d trot out the family orchard — it was way too complicated to be a mere tree anymore — and try to explain who was what to who and why we were spending time with them.
Finally it just became too exhausting. I realized why everyone in small towns are just “cousins.” Yeah, they’re related by blood, marriage, a few divorces and some odd land splits but in the end, when push comes to shove, they’re just “family.”
So I resolved the word thing. I knew its etymology, but I was still feeling off about the whole thing. For this, I was going to have to dig deep. After some serious reflection, I knew I wasn’t feeling off-kilter because my ex was getting remarried.
It was the fact that my little boys were going to be living with someone else. Another woman. Another mother. Not their mother, but still, a mother. And despite how much I try to eschew typical Mom behavior, there are still certain reactions, thoughts, instincts if you will, that I have about my children.
Yes, they are a sticky, smelly, loud couple of baboons for the most part. But do them harm? There’s no place deep and dark enough you can hide.
And if I felt that way about my kids, then she felt the same way about hers and some of that would transfer to mine, and she would look after them like they were her own but they weren’t and just who did she think she was?!
So the only logical thing to do was embark on some Disney-esque scheme to make sure they didn’t get married, right? Yeah, no.
The only logical thing to do was to put on my big-girl chonies and sit down and talk with this woman — over a salad of course,  because that’s what real women do.
And that’s when the weirdness became flop-sweat, junior-high-dance awkward. Sentences started simultaneously, followed by stereo “No, you go first,” then long silences. The salads were good, so there was that.
We eventually hit our stride and began to have a conversation. Come to find out, she was worried about things, too. I guess you don’t become something out of a Grimm’s story every day. Apparently, popular culture hasn’t done much to enhance the reputation of stepmothers.
So there we were, two women, two mothers and some soggy croutons, trying to figure out how to make this work. And the answer was, well somehow. It would be weird and awkward. We were probably going to end up knowing things about each other that we’d rather not.
But we had to because in the end, from now until it all comes to an end, we’re family.


-- Email the author at jdendinger@news-bulletin.com.