My husband and I both brought children from previous relationships to our marriage. So we’re often stuck with labels like “blended,” “non-traditional,” and “step family.” But none of those is accurate.
A Saturday morning in our house is filled with a standard dose of workweek exhaustion paired with weekend elation and the rowdy rumblings of three of our sons moving checker pieces in the game of life.
The oldest one wakes, yawns, heads to the washroom, then comes in, cracks a joke, and prepares to leave for work or class. The youngest one wakes, coos, and always smiles, which prompts my husband to share that he hopes we have many years ahead of us where a child will flash a grin at the mere sight of our tired faces. Our middle son wakes, yells a booming good morning and then nose-dives into the center of our bed.
It’s a Saturday morning in the house we have come to refer to as “4600″ and as I look around at the sun-kissed faces, I become ever so grateful that my life turned out exactly the way I said I never wanted it to be.
In college, I used to tell my roommate that upon marrying the man of my dreams I would have five children. Having already picked out their names, I intended to gift them with travelogues and passports so we could traverse the world documenting our sights in my bestselling novels.
My delusions didn’t stop there because I also professed that I would never marry a man who already had kids. The very thought completely defied my “Cosby Show” principles and I wasn’t a fan of the “Brady Bunch.”
Love, however, had different plans for my life.
When I fell in love with my husband, it meant also loving his two sons. We were both on our second marriages. We were both clear about what we wanted. We were even clearer about what we needed, and one of the driving tenets behind our union was, “no more relationships based on conditional love.”
My husband is a Midwest man of Mexican, Norwegian, and German descent who embraces the cold and finds his greatest solace on a mountaintop with no working cell phone towers. I, on the other hand, am a Los Angelino woman of African-American heritage who loves the bustle of the city, believes all activities should be 405 freeway-adjacent, prefers direct access to the beach, and finds lengthy departures from civilization to be an unwelcome casting call for a slasher film.
Sure, we have our differences, but our love is stronger because of them.
As if being married with children isn’t hard enough, the labels associated with families such as ours can be even harder to bear. Even I initially found myself struggling to define our brood. As a result, it’s a lot easier to explain what we aren’t than what we are.
Having recently spent a lot of time pureeing baby food, I can say with confidence we aren’t “blended.” The strong personalities of every member in our family unit can’t be liquefied, watered down, or chopped into mush to foster a more uniform consistency.
I’m also not too keen on the phrasing “non-traditional family.” While it could be interpreted as a compliment considering the “traditional family” hasn’t fared too well over time, it also seems like an unnecessary branding for our children.
And it’s in the spirit of childlike purity that I also learned we would no longer welcome the phrase “stepfamily.”
It was during one of our Saturday morning routines where we were sprawled out on the bed amidst spit-up, action figures, and my husband offering his back as a playground in the hopes he could sleep a little longer, that a telemarketer called for our college-age son.
Our son had already left for work so I informed the woman on the other line that he wasn’t home. Determined to meet her quota, she proceeded to inquire about a better time to reach him and when my unwillingness to divulge the various details of his schedule frustrated her, she demanded to know who I was. I crudely replied, “I’m his stepmother!”
It worked and she got off the phone, but the look on our middle son’s face remains seared in my mind’s eye. With a tinge of disgust he stood up, scooped Batman, Iron Man, and Captain America all toward his chest and professed, “You’re not Nick’s Stepmom. You’re just Mom.”
It was as if the use of the word “Step” had not only diminished some of my own heroic powers, but it was inauthentic when describing the relationships between a proud little brother, his Nerf gun slinging hero of a big brother, and the mom fortunate enough to know and love them both.
So if we aren’t “blended,” “non-traditional,” “step,” or any other contemporary terminology, what are we? I think “family” works just fine.
Or maybe on Saturdays you can call us a bag of mixed nuts—a delicious combination of hilarity, devotion, and love.