Family has been on my mind a lot lately. Particularly blended, nontraditional families. Part of that’s getting into my main character’s head. And part of that is…me.
My parents got divorced when I was four. My sister A was one. Mom got remarried when I was six. Dad got remarried when I was seven. I had another little sister, S, when I was eight (my mom and stepdad’s) and a brother when I was nine (my dad and stepmom’s). There were a lot of adjustments. Tears, tantrums. To say that I was a super-anxious kid is putting it lightly. I did not handle all the change well.
But then when I was twelve, things evened out and went more or less swimmingly through my teens. I loved high school; I was an abnormally happy, chatty teenager. I lived primarily with my mom, stepdad, and two sisters. My friends were always at our house. My mom made them brownies; my stepdad joked around with everyone; S drew them pictures. I think of being thirteen and I picture a gaggle of kids jumping on our trampoline on a hot summer night after band practice, looking for shooting stars, catching fireflies, and listening to TLC’s "Waterfalls" on repeat. Then A and I spent weekends boating or swimming or playing catch at my dad’s.
When I acted in fall plays and spring musicals, both of my families came (albeit on different nights) and brought me roses. They huddled in two discrete, congratulatory groups at band concerts or marching band competitions. During the third quarter of football games, when the band was on break, I found Mom in the stands and Dad down by the track. But they threw me a joint Sweet Sixteen party. I was mortified at being the center of attention, but I kind of loved having all of my family together in one room.
Then, four years ago this Christmas, my dad and my stepmom got a divorce. It was the kind of divorce where ugly accusations are hurled and factions are formed and people stop speaking. My former stepmom and brother aren’t in touch with any of us. People who were my step-aunts and uncles and grandparents for twenty years are no longer in my life. I lost 25% of my family. It was difficult. It still is.
Two years ago, I got married. My husband has just the two parents, still married after forty-five years, and no siblings. It’s sweet but kind of weird to me. Their family gatherings are very quiet and subdued. Of course, my mom’s side of the family now includes my sister A’s boyfriend of 12 years plus two dogs, two cats, a cockatiel, and fifteen stray cats (no, seriously). It gets a bit raucous.
And then yesterday my dad got remarried. His new wife has a daughter a year older than me, a daughter who’s married with a husband and new baby. The daughter seems kind of shy, and so am I, and to be honest I would not recognize her if I ran into her on the street. I would like to get to know them better. Technically, they are family now too. But what does that mean? My concept still has to catch up.
I’ve never put lots of stock in "write what you know," but maybe there’s some emotional truth in it. When I dream up book ideas, the main characters never have perfect nuclear families.