Over the course of the past seventeen years, many people have referred to my family as ‘The Brady Bunch.’ While it is true that my husband Steve was a widower, I was a divorcee, and combined we had six kids to raise; I assure you, that is where the similarities ended. The twenty first century trials and tribulations we have faced would have curled Carol’s signature long shag.
Steve, a still grieving widower of 11 years, was born and raised in small town Pennsylvania: a place where they took care of their own and did not welcome outsiders. He lived there with his two children in a tight little cocoon of grief. I was a recent transplant from California, dragged across the country and dropped into that small town in Pennsylvania by my [then] husband who promptly (within three months) traded me and my four children for a sports car and a younger woman. I realize, in hindsight, what a blessing his departure was (more on him later), but at the time I was faced with no income, I knew nobody, and most people in small town Pennsylvania hated Californians. At times I was tempted to tell them I was actually a Hoosier from Indiana, but since all of my children were born and raised in California, I walked the road of scorn with them.
Individually, both Steve and I were too badly broken to seek or even want companionship. However, our oldest daughters, both sophomores in high school, met and during a rare moment of friendship in their love/hate relationship, schemed to introduce their two sad parents. Our first date was over 19 years ago.
I think I fell in love with Steve on our first date. As he openly expressed how deeply he still loved his wife (even though she had been gone for eleven years), he melted my frozen heart and it became his. Of course, in my broken state, I never considered how that complete devotion may not leave much leeway in a new relationship.
Steve swears he fell in love with me on our first date as well. He said he didn’t think he would feel that instant ‘wow factor’ ever again–that it took him completely by surprise—and that he asked his mom that very first week if he could possibly be in love with someone he just met. And of course, he, in his broken condition, never considered how difficult it might be to love someone with so much trauma in her past.
Obviously, we were each terrifically on the rebound, and not the best candidates for marriage. We were both intelligent adults who logically knew that fact to be true. But, we were also two people who had seen far too much pain and suffering, and our desire to make each other (and each of our six children) whole again was greater than our combined concerns.
So, we took the plunge. We threw a huge church wedding to celebrate our unbelievable good fortune in finding love after devastation. Our two matchmakers gave a heartrending speech at our reception: again, a precious ‘love’ moment between them, and we began our seemingly perfect lives together. We had each become so good at keeping up a positive image.
My children and I were finally accepted into small town Pennsylvania as the ‘happily ever after’ other half of the ‘Brady Bunch.’ Although Mike and Carol made it look like a cinch, step-parenting is hard work. Even two hearts as filled with love, hope and acceptance as ours, were put to the test. Even children who deeply desire the stability of a two parent family, unconsciously push the limits—as if to say, “will you still love me when…?”
Each of our six children faced extreme hardship early in life. Steve’s children lost their mother when they were too young to have concrete memories of her. My children lived with both addiction and domestic violence. Combined with a new family to adjust to, they individually had all of that baggage to overcome.
It has been a rocky seventeen years, but we are still here. If not for each of our grievous pasts, we may not have survived this journey. But, although we have faced and overcome many obstacles, we have also experienced a great deal of joy as well. We raised six wonderful children, saw all of them get married and are now sharing in the immense beauty that is called grandchildren (we are expecting #13 next month).
Relationships–all relationships–are hard work; but they are worth the work. I won’t lie, there have definitely been times I would have liked to walk away—to just say “well, I gave it my best shot but it didn’t work out,” but then I remember that I not only made a promise in my vows, but more importantly to me; I made a promise to my children. Promising to never give up means we can believe in each other–trust each other to love our ‘not so lovable’ selves, as well as our lovable selves. I want my children to trust me. I want to be that example to my children as they face their own trials and tribulations through marriage.
As I said in my bio, I am a reluctant blogger. Co-dependency and domestic violence teach you to hide. I hid for so many years that it has become hard to literally ‘come out’ and say “my life has been a bit of a train wreck.” Here’s the thing though—I’m not sorry that I have lived my life exactly as I’ve lived it. Every hardship we endured taught my children and I something valuable. We are all such bleeding hearts, but it is because we lived so much of what we see others suffering through now…and nothing teaches compassion for the human condition better than experience.
Welcome to the crazy world I call life. I will make my best effort to share openly and honestly in hopes that I can perhaps ease your burden.
Put your seatbelt on and enjoy the ride.