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Brave New Hope

I have a blended family, my kids belong to two blended families, I know friends and acquaintances that have blended families, and I work with blended families each day.

It's a nice pretty-sounding word: BLENDED. All mushed up together, like a milkshake. Or maybe, a business-like blended, as in "integrated" or "merged." Or swirled beautifully, all united in movement.

None of these describe my blended family. Nor do they describe most of the ones with whom I have personal experience. Those that do swirl beautifully together are in the minority, a very rare occurrence indeed.

The antonyms for "blended" include disharmonized, divided, dispersed, separated, disconnected.

Now those are words that much better describe my experience!

In the early days of our relationship, we were not permitted to introduce each other to our children. This was intended to keep the children insulated from what could be the tumultuous dating life of the parent. Understandable!

When we knew we were "future-oriented," we did introduce each other and the kids, but we spent very little time together as a group, because we lived 50 miles apart. This made it hard for us to get to know each other's children and for the kids to get to know one another, too. There was a large difference in children's ages, as well, my youngest being three years older than his twin boys. My daughter, the oldest child and the only girl, was never really part of the mix.

When we married, my large rescued German Shepherd Dog compounded the problem: the twins had never been around dogs, especially not a huge 50-pound, exuberant one-year-old puppy. So, we continued to spend our weekends apart. My kids and I stayed in our home, he and the boys stayed in various hotels: more forced separation.

When money became too tight to splurge on twice-monthly weekends away, we HAD to live together. Our small rented home had a basement that was not inhabitable, a tiny kitchen and three small bedrooms. The boys slept in one room, with bunk beds and a futon. The girl got to have her own bedroom, and we had ours. The dog was crated most of the time. I don't have clear memories of those weekends, but still we were separated. My kids, being in their hometown, had friends of their own that they did things with; his kids, far from home, did not. We tried a "whole family" approach a few times, going to corn mazes in the fall or bowling on snowy winter Saturdays, but somehow we remained apart - bowling games were "us" vs. "them."

We moved to a bigger home eventually, recognizing that growing children really need more space. This home had a wonderful basement, fully finished, with a wet bar and a pool table. Upstairs were three bedrooms, one for each of my kids and the master bedroom for us; into the basement went the bunk bed and the futon for his boys, with a screen partition for privacy. Even though we did try to use this space together when we first moved in, the basement became "theirs" and the upstairs was "ours."

Once, I tried to make a family breakfast. But only once. Often, we tried to have dinner together, but we never mingled or changed seats around. We had game nights, but as my kids got older, they were less likely to join in, and now they are not often at home with us. Movie nights are another option, but the movie is chosen pretty much for the tastes of the youngest kids.

All the earlier separation has permeated our forced togetherness in a very negative way. We still know so little about each other's children, and they really know so little about each of us. The truth is, it's hard to like someone that you barely know.

But, there is another truth. And that is - we keep trying. We keep working at it. We recently celebrated Thanksgiving and Christmas, the two of us and all four kids, without other extended family members to provide distractions. We cooked and baked and roasted all day long; we cleaned up all together. We still opened presents separately on Christmas Day, but it is what it is.

And what it is, is an ongoing work in progress, my blended/separate family, and I really can't say that we could have done things much differently than we did. Not get married? He has taught me so much about love that I can't imagine life without him. No dog? No way! Should we have "played house," and lived together first before marriage? It really wouldn't have made any difference in how things played out, and it would have taught my kids, especially after the divorce, that trust and commitment are both worthless and unattainable. This second-chance marriage covenant we made (and the memory of the intense pain of divorce) requires us to continually choose to love each day, in spite of the odds against us, in the face of all the challenges. It is hoped that, occasionally, our four children notice that.

Like most kids, ours are growing up and will be moving on some day, sooner rather than later. And it will be just me and my husband at home. Circumstances will change, I'm sure of it, but with all that we've endured, together and apart, I'm hopeful that what we've learned will guide us through anything.

(title credit to artist/vocalist "Basia," Barbara Trzetrzelewska)

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