My kids were fairly young when their Dad and I separated. Our divorce was quick, but it wasn’t without it’s animosity and struggles. But I was there for every question and every thought that the kids needed to address about my choice to leave. It was tough to decide to put my happiness first. It was tougher to come to the realization that I wasn’t responsible for my husband’s happiness. We never are. And the minute we make our partner responsible for our happiness, is the moment in which we forget we exist as an individual. We are responsible for our own choices, and emotions. Far too often, being married, has given people silent permission to create expectations of our spouse that we have of ourselves. But taking vows doesn’t make us one. No matter what anyone thinks, we aren’t one. We are two people, with two voices, who could very well enjoy many of the same things and finish each other’s sentences, but we are not one. Love doesn’t exist to complete us; it exists to complement us and make us smile and challenge us. We should grow as humans within our relationships. But we must still exist as individuals.
Divorce isn’t ever the choice we want for ourselves in life. But who we are when we are young and decide to marry, isn’t always who we are when we are older and discover more about ourselves.
Sometimes our paths cross and then veer in different directions. Sometimes I love you, just means I love you right now. Sometimes I love you, means I’ll love you forever. But we never really know. How could we know? We aren’t all powerful beings who can see into the future.
Where did the concept of ‘falling in love’ come from? Do we love by choice or are we helpless to our emotions? I’m not sure entirely what my answer would be. But when I think of being in love with William and what that means to me, I feel that I’m still who I am with or without him, but I would be heartbroken if he wasn’t in my world. I wouldn’t chose to be without him, so in essence I choose to love him. Choosing to stay married, isn’t equal to choosing to stay in love. In deep discussion, Will’s 13 year old daughter Ella says she believes, that if you have to work to love someone, it isn’t true love. She also believes that I should leave this thought as ambiguous, so that you can decide for yourself how you feel.
THE BREAK UP
I asked Ella a lot of intrusive questions about how she felt when her parents split, and she humbled me with her answers, no matter how uncomfortable. I cannot presume to write anything on her behalf without knowing what her thoughts were in that time. It was before me. But it gave me insight into how she felt at 12 years old, that I didn’t have with my own children. Madelyn was only 7 when I left her Dad. Ella’s version was that she didn’t understand why her parents separated. They never fought and everything seemed fine. Overnight her world was tipped upside down. It made me wonder what most kids see prior to their parents splitting? Do they really understand what’s between the lines or do they choose to see the best in everything because that’s the childlike thing to do. They will fight to protect their happiness at all costs. When parents fight, it may be more predictable to see a separation coming, as it’s outward and visible.
But so many people hide how they feel. They stuff it all down and then it becomes this shock when they finally make the decision to leave. Will was one of those parents. His kids had no idea, because Will never picked a fight with their Mom. He simply swallowed his unhappiness for years. We all fear making decisions that affect others that we love. We are able to leave when we choose to not be blinded by our fear.
Creating A New Family
Will’s kids, Ella and Lilly learned about me only a month after I started dating their Dad. It wasn’t on their Dad’s terms, and shouldn’t have been the way they had to find out. But out of anger and hurt, parents make harsh decisions that make them feel better, but leave others sad in their wake. Some parents put kids in the middle of their anger and hurt. Unfortunately that’s what happened when I came along in Will’s life and he told his ex about me. Looking back, Ella remembers thinking it was too early for her Dad to be dating. The truth is that Will was long gone from the relationship before he left, while his wife was still holding on to the hope of reuniting their family. When that hope gets destroyed in one single text, it’s devastating to their fabricated reality and the cracks begin to form. They slowly destroy those around them if they don’t patch up the cracks and move forward. My husband clung to the hope many months after I left that we would get back together. There usually is one side that hasn’t let go. It is the nature of how most relationships end. But because of this, sometimes what stems from that sudden reality smack in the face is intense anger. Split reaction is the killer of all good decisions.
And so while my children grew to love and accept Will as part of our life, I didn’t get to meet Will’s kids until we had been dating 10 months. Ultimately I knew that it was their choice and that I needed to understand that their situation was fresher than mine. I had been on my own for three years when I met Will. My kids had seen me date on occasion. It was made to be part of life. But Ella and Lilly were just in the beginning stages of knowing that their parents were not getting back together and that wound runs deeper for some than others. I like to believe that things are meant to happen when they happen. Forcing a child to accept a situation they have no control over, is not in loving acceptance of who they are and what they need. So our family waited, ever so patiently for Ella and Lilly to choose to meet us. I listened to their Dad talk about them, and over time I grew to understand who they were, what I already loved about them, even though I had not met them. We would separate for the weekends we each had our children, so we could spend time with them on our own.
Will’s kids – Ella & Lilly
Angela’s Kids – Madelyn, Emily, Carter, Cole
Then at some point I suppose we secretly planned a fantastical way for the big meet to happen. We grew sad of the discourse and distance on our weekends apart. We so badly wanted to unite our two families and I wanted to come to love Will’s kids just like my own. Because blood runs only so deep and I’ve always told my kids that our hearts do not have a limit to how much we can love. Will accepted my children as his own and I knew that I would do the same. They were a part of him and I loved him.
We planned the meet in a public place at the Factory in London. I suppose in the end, we tipped them over the edge, but they finally accepted the truth of our relationship. I wasn’t going anywhere and at some point they either had to accept it and meet me, or remain absent from that part of their Dad’s life. I really feared that it would be the latter. So while I wasn’t a part of the conversation between Will’s kids, Ella tells me that she finally gave in to the situation without really feeling 100% comfortable with it. But then again, who the heck at 13 years old wants to meet the ‘other woman’?
The Factory is a trampoline, high ropes, and obstacle course arena. It was public enough to give them all their own space and allow them to mingle and play safely. I, on the other hand, was not sure if the girls would have much opportunity to speak with me. But maybe it was me dangling from a zipline, screaming at the top of my lungs, that won over the girls. I was just a woman who loved their Dad, desperately trying to show them that I wasn’t crazy. It didn’t take long for them to warm up to the kids, and during certain moments they would poke me ever so slightly with a question or two. With all the buildup getting to that point, I felt that at the end of the day, a weight had been lifted. Then we let the chips fall where they may. They’ve been at my house every visit with their Dad since. That was three months ago.
Not Just A Blended Family
Sitting around with all the kids while on vacation together, I was pondering what to write about for this week’s blog. I had it in my mind to eventually write about the blended family that was now our reality. I threw the thought aloud and the kids were intrigued. I said we weren’t like most blended families though. We were more like… “A Mr. Potato Head family.” To which everyone agreed with a laugh. So we decided together which part of the Mr. Potato Head everyone was.
Ella (13) – Nose: Smell is one of the intricate parts of fine senses. She’s a lover of cooking, and has taken up enjoying making dinner with us in the evenings. She is peaceful and keeps her thoughts inward more than outward. But this quality allows her to think before she speaks. (Unlike her sister Lilly, says Ella, laughing). To be honest, in my view the olfactory system is one of the major memory triggers for me. Smells are thoughtful and flood my mind with parts of my life that are special to me. The nose is a part of the body that is connected to the mind and soul. She is soulful… that’s what it means to me.
Cole (8) – Hands: He touches everyone. He’s the youngest and the most ‘touchy feely’ with absolutely everyone. When he met Will’s kids, it was like they were already his sisters. Touch, touch, touch, touch… hug, hug, crawl all over. He’s still the baby of the family. I love that he can still curl up in my arms and I can rock him. He’s the silliest, and the most able to view the world as an innocent.
Madelyn (11) – Mouth: This seems like the most logical body part for my oldest, empathetic child. Everyone agreed, including her. We all laughed, because anyone who knows Madelyn knows she can’t stop talking. I’m slowly teaching her that listening is an important skill along with the ability to speak eloquently, but… it’s a work in progress. She’s quick to tell others how they should do things, but she’s also quick to comfort and pick up the pieces when someone hurts. She’s a talker, because in her world she knows that if she talks it out, it’ll make more sense to her. She’s not unlike her Mom. I don’t let things fester. I can’t. It unbalances me. She is of the same mind and spirit. Her mind must balance. So she talks. And talks. And talks. Sometimes to the point of me needing her to stop talking, because others around her who don’t value noise as much, are tipped unbalanced. (Like her sister Emily)
Emily (10) – Ears: Always listening, never speaking. This is Emily. Unwavering Emily, with her stubborn streak and her strength of character. She knows who she is and doesn’t change for anyone. There is quiet in Emily and she picks the moments she has something to say. She needs space and time alone to reboot each day. Piano is her hobby because she doesn’t have to play with others to enjoy it. She hears things from two miles away that I can’t fathom her hearing, and it could be months later that she lets me know she heard it. I had to start really whispering under my breath around that kid. She could also hear a candy wrapper open from three doors down. She’s the sugar junkie of the fam jam. She also wins every staring contest she challenges people to. She has a look to her. I’m going to teach her how to play poker.
Carter (10) – Feet: The kid who is always moving. It makes sense that Carter is the constant moving body part. He is active, but struggles to sit still unless something is totally capturing his attention. He loves working and will go till the sun sets helping his Grandpa. He is a kinesthetic learner. He needs to DO. Listening isn’t his forte. But that’s because he can’t stop long enough to take in what you are saying. His body is always moving forward, so his brain struggles to keep up. He processes the world differently. He needs help finding quiet. He’s the polar opposite of his twin sister Emily.
Lilly (11) – Hat: More specifically the Sombrero. She’s the decorative showpiece on the top. And probably every accessory on the Mr. Potato Head. While Lilly presents herself as shy, when she’s comfortable, she opens up and is the class clown to everyone who knows her. She jokes. She laughs. She is silly and it actually suits her well. She makes people laugh when they need it and my children have come to see her as the smiling constant in the Mr. Potato Head Family. She is always trying to get attention, but in positive ways. She loves putting on a show. My Emily has gravitated towards her the most. Lilly is a year older than Emily but I see her look up to her. They are the most alike in many ways. Around Lilly, Emily breaks out of her shell. She shines more and her silly inside self is given permission to unleash. Wherever Lilly is, Emily won’t be far behind.
Will (aka Dad) – Heart: While we can’t see the heart on Mr. Potato Head, we know that it’s there. It is hollow inside him and all the pieces are held there safely so they don’t get lost. That’s Will. He’s the piece of the family that holds it all together. He’s the balance maker; the peace maker; the heart of everything that glues this mix-match family together. He’s the silly, the serious, the loving, the truth. He doesn’t put himself first. He thinks of our kids, he thinks of me, before he ever thinks of what he needs. I’ve come to understand that what makes Will happy is to be making others happy. So you can imagine the strength it took for him to decide to leave his marriage, knowing how unhappy it would make everyone in his world. He put himself first that once, because it meant happiness or compliancy. He’s the heart.
Angela (Aka Mom) – Eyes: It’s my job to always watch over everyone. I always told the kids that I had eyes in the back of my head and I swear they still believe me. I see between the lines. I know what a shrug of the shoulders really means, and the pout on a face, and the things that are easy to see that aren’t being noticed by others. It’s my place to keep the family balanced. To find peace when peace isn’t there. The eyes are the window to the soul, some say. Maybe… but either way, my eyes are pretty. And I use them to never miss a beat.
Blended is so Bland
So when people talk about blended families, I get the dynamics surrounding what that can mean, but it’s different to everyone. I knew the chances of being 39 and dating again, that most men my age would have a pre-existing family. I knew it could lead to some riff and possible adjustments for my family. I never imaged that it would be so epic that we would now be talking about buying a 12-seater bus to go on adventures with our six kids. But every day I get to spend with them is a new one and one that teaches me more about resilience and love. I have learned that families aren’t cookie cutter pieces of perfection. Sometimes they are half-baked, chipped and crumbling at the edges. In the midst of piecing the puzzle of families together, somehow we figure it out. Blended is such a commonly used term that I prefer our concept – Mr. Potato Head Family. We all have a part to play in making it work. We all have our personalities and those pieces are what make us special in one big, funny family dynamics. And for me, I get to extend my love past my four children and embrace two more beautiful girls. Who knows what the future brings, but I know today I’m excited for what may come for us.