I was always the classic only child. The kind of person you get to know and say: “Yep, only child, checks out. Makes sense.” And you know what? I am down for it. I embraced the hell out of my solo status. Mom, Dad, me — the three amigos. And I never expected, or wanted, anything else.
I loved being part of this tiny family. People asked if I envied not having siblings or felt like I was missing out when we’d watch things like My Big Fat Greek Wedding.
And the answer was always a resounding no.
I didn’t. I had everything I ever wanted.
Until suddenly, I didn’t. And everything I had known came crumbling apart. A family of three reduced to just two, my mother and me.
My mother was in her early 40s when my dad passed, so it really shouldn’t have been surprising she’d date. She’d re-marry. She’d get another chance at love and commitment. I wanted that for her. Truly. I hated the thought of her alone while I was away at college. It kind of made my stomach hurt and think of impulsively saying: “Screw college, my mom is watching reruns on USA right now and I should be there with her.”
But when it actually happened and everything I had known of family was changing? It scared me. No, it terrified me.
But coming up on a year of blended family antics, I’ve learned some of the best things in life are those we feared the most. Oh, and I learned some other shit too.
1. Love is not guaranteed.
This was a weird one, to move in with people I didn’t know very well and suddenly call them family. To me, family had always meant unconditional love and support. People who knew you, at times, better than you knew yourself. That’s what I knew about family. But when houses merge, you don’t automatically love someone. You grow to. It’s a progression, and in the beginning, it can feel forced. It can feel a bit like a play and you’re all trying to find the perfect character. But just because love isn’t guaranteed doesn’t mean it won’t come. Because, as with most things, with time and work, you can get there.
2. We have room for multiple parental figures in our lives.
To be honest, I still occasionally struggle with this. I remember the first time I referred to my mother and stepdad as “my parents” it felt a little like I was cheating on my father’s memory. Was it okay? Was I allowed to have a place in my heart for another dad? I felt guilty and sad and all these things that no one prepared me for. But I also felt peace. He wasn’t ever going to be my dad, but he could be a dad. And who couldn’t use a dad in their life?
3. Siblings will test your goddamn patience.
I used to consider myself an extremely patient person. And obviously the universe heard that and said, “LOL, Babe, just wait.” Because damn, I really didn’t know what the hell I was talking about. As the oldest of four now, I have learned the true meaning of the word. And that it often means loving someone but also wanting to throw them out the window. But you know, not actually doing that.
4. Everything changes, family included.
Nothing is permanent in life. And though this is a concept we all generally understand to be true, it doesn’t change how jarring it can be when we actually realize it. Ideas, people, hopes, realities — all constantly changing throughout our lives. And family is one of them. And being open to the possibility of this truth is vital.
P.S. Kaitlin, I love you. You’re the raddest nine-year-old I know and I’m so proud to be your big sister.