Posts Tagged ‘stepfamily’

“What if I fart while I’m getting the massage?” I ask Rachel.

We’re at a bed and breakfast in the Michigan countryside.  I signed us up for the couple’s side-by-side massage Saturday morning.  We slept in, ate a late breakfast at 9:30, snowshoed through the woods, lolled in bed some more, and are now dressing to walk downstairs for our massage.

I’m feeling a little gas coming on.  If I’m on the table, and something bubbles up, my choices are to let loose, or hold it in.  The first option seems rude, but tightening up for an hour doesn’t seem very relaxing.

“Yeah,” Rachel says as she pulls her jeans on, “it’s a problem.”

It’s hard to complain, though, when my only concern on a Saturday morning is whether I’ll pass gas during a one-hour massage.  Rachel and I are rewarding ourselves for a long and successful marriage with this weekend trip of good food, sleep,whirpool tub, and spa services. 

It’s our second anniversary. 

The uninitiated may scoff at calling a two-year marriage “long and successful,” but I guarantee that anyone who already had kids, and married someone with kids, knows that a two year tour of duty in this business – with no casualties – is a dramatic achievement.  That’s why the failure rate for blended family marriages is 70%.  It’s not for the faint-of-heart.

Stepmarriage years are like dog years.  You know: one dog year equals seven human years?  Same with a step marriage.  We’ve got the battle scars of a 14-year-old traditional marriage. 

So – we’re entitled to our weekend, whirpool tub, and swedish massages.

And if I need to fart, I will.


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I’m explaining barbed wire to Jack, who is six. 

We’re driving in Detroit after dropping Alani off at theater practice.  

Jack opted to go with us rather than with his mom to Michael’s soccer game.  Of the five of us in this house, Jack is the most likely to disregard the two-tribe stepfamily divide.  Out of habit, Rachel would generally take Jack, and I would take my daughter to theater practice.  I decided to shake things up, and invited Jack to come with Alani and I.  Jack considered, questioning his mom closely about the playground equipment at the soccer field, before casting his lot with Alani and I.

We drive through a decrepit part of Detroit after dropping Alani off, past lots fenced with barbed wire.  Jack asks why they have barbed wire.  I tell him to keep out people who might steal something.

“Then why don’t we have barbed wire around our house?” he asks.

We live in a tidy, tiny suburb.  I tell Jack it’s because we have a police station right at the end of the corner.  We drive, and Jack continues to survey the desolate landscape.

“Mike,” he says, “Is there a lot of barbed wire in Detroit?”


“How come?”

“Because they don’t have enough police to protect everything,”  I say. 

Jack moves on to related crime topics.

“How do guns kill people?” he asks.

“With bullets,” I say.  I explain that bullets are hard pieces of metal that go into a person’s body and wreck something important, like their heart.

“And then they die?”


He accepts the authority of my answers until he asks if bullets can go through teeth, and I say they can.  He disagrees, insisting that teeth are the strongest part of the body, stronger than bones, so there is no way that a bullet can break them. 

“A bullet can knock teeth out,” Jack says, “but it’ can’t go through them.” 

I admit that he may be right, and take the ramp onto I-75 north.  Jack asks what we’re going to do now.  I tell him we’ll go home, that I have some work to do.   This disappoints him.  He’d hoped for more adventure.

“I should have gone with my mom,” Jack says. 

 “Or, ” I say, “we could go to the library.”   I refuse to have my small victory over the two-tribe divide sullied by buyer’s remorse.

Jack perks up.  He wants to know which library, the good one or the boring one.  I tell him the good library, with the kids’ books and the wishing fountain outside.  

We park outside the library and approach the fountain.  Seven years ago, when Alani was Jack’s age, she stood by the same fountain and asked how long it took for wishes to come true.  I said it depended on the wish.  Alani told me that she’d wished many times to become a polar bear, but she never did become one.

I hand Jack a penny.  When we reach the fountain we see that it’s been drained.  Only a thin puddle of water remains. Not much more than a damp spot.

“Oh, no!” Jack says.

I assure him that if the penny gets wet, the wish counts.  Jack tosses his, and it plinks into the puddle. 

“Good throw,” I say. 

Jack takes my hand.  We walk toward the library.

“Mike,” he says, “My wishes never come true.”

“Keep wishing,” I say.  “They will.”

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coffeecup 001Rachel and I are not going to have a baby.

We decided this weekend, on our honeymoon, eighteen months after our wedding. (We already had three kids between us when we got married, so we had to take our honeymoon where we could find it.)

Early on, Rachel had talked a lot about having a child together. I loved the idea, but the reality made no sense. We already had plenty of kids, and dogs, and cats, and no time. And it would create an odd stepfamily dynamic. We’d have her kids, my kid, and our kid? Weird.

Rachel’s theory had been that an “our” kid was necessary for marital bonding. She told me that in the animal kingdom the only animals that mate for life were those that have offspring together, and that the same was probably true of us. I suggested that as human beings, we might not be subject to the same rules as desert quail. Rachel was doubtful. “I just don’t think human beings are that evolved,” she said.

I pointed out that most divorced people had previously had children together, so pooling genes in an infant didn’t seem a good predictor of marital longevity. This seemed to make sense to her. Also, she knew it shouldn’t be a baby’s purpose cement a marriage.

A baby shouldn’t have a job,” she said this weekend.

For the first time, poolside at the Marriott, she was sure: No baby. I was surprised at my reaction to her certainty: Disappointment. I didn’t really want a baby either, but I liked it when she did.

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godandcoffee 001On Tuesday Rachel  told me that she’s not going to church on Sundays anymore.    This development was not unexpected.  Raised Catholic like me, she has many objections to church doctrine – the ban on women priests, the position against stem-cell research , the fact that you can’t bring a latte to Mass. 

We don’t disagree on these matters, it’s just that I enjoy the familiar ritual and ignore objectionable teachings, and she cannot.  I usually meditate during the sermon.  Rachel listens, and doesn’t like what she hears.

Her decision will be greeted with alleluias by her sons, Michael and Jack.  They seldom went to church before their mom married me, and hate the Sunday tradition we adopted as part of our plan to forge a stepfamily.  “It makes my legs hurt,” Michael complained, referring to the relentless standing, kneeling, sitting.  He monitors the time remaining in each service,  repeatedly asking how much time till his agony will end. 

Rachel said she will begin some sort of Sunday spiritual practice with the boys.  I ask her what she’s going to do.  “Maybe meditation,” she says. “Maybe I’ll even do some nature stuff.”   She told the boys that if they didn’t take her Sunday spirituality program seriously, they’ll have to go back to church.  “We’re not just going to sit at home and watch videos,” she said. 

Alani dislikes church as much as Michael, but because she is under my jurisdiction, she’ll continue to suffer.  It is a stepfamily divide.  Alani and I will get up on Sunday morning and go to church, Rachel and her boys will not.  A year ago I would have been much more apprehensive about this split.  Without these joint traditions, it’s hard to tell what we are, exactly.  A family?  A husband and wife raising their respective kids separately under the same roof?

Don’t know.  But I’m now content to let it all happen organically, without imposing a traditional family structure.  And I have to admit, I’m envious of Rachel’s spiritual home-schooling plan.  It’s liberating, the idea of teaching the kids what you believe, instead of trying to navigate them around medieval religious doctrines.  Plus, the lattes.

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