In my work life, as an analyst, I am known for my ability to sort information in logical "bins" and make sure apples are with apples and the oranges know where to go, etc. It's kinda my thing.
When it comes to our family, however, what drives me batty is when people try to put us (or one of us) in a box.
"What's the big deal? Other families have five kids."
"You're a blended family."
"All the kids are so well adjusted and seem so happy."
"You are an inspiration and an angel for what you did."
I know why they do it. People want to make sense of a horrible event and don't want to see or think about the continued crisis in our family. Dismissive of the difficulty in our everyday life. Telling me I'm doing such a good job, or that I'm somehow a holy person for taking in the girls, makes them feel good about themselves in their effort to try to make me feel better. They want all of us to sit comfortably in our happy little box, wrapped in colorful paper with a big, cheerful bow on top.
You cannot box our family. We are not a blended family. We are a family of 5 that added two cousins. We're not the Brady Bunch. Nobody ever talks about what happened to the first Mrs. Brady. In our case, she and Mr. Brady were violently killed in a car accident. Our Marsha and Jan were tossed around in two other solutions till they landed in our laps. We were an established family with our own traditions, rhythms, jokes, activities, and roles which were suddenly rocked by the addition of two traumatized, grieving children.
Practical solutions that may make sense for most families, often don't make sense for us because of the emotional ramifications tied to a change in routine. I don't always feel like a good person for taking in the girls. There are days where I've fantasized about grabbing my three little boys and running away to a secluded beach in Mexico. Just us, where there are no such things as car accidents, screaming 12 year old girls or surly teenagers. I am not a saint. I am not a perfect mother by any means (as documented many times in this blog).
The only thing that makes sense to me is to try to live our lives as "normal" as possible. I'm not sure if it makes sense to other people, but if we give up the things that helped define us as a family, we're letting the accident take away more than just Jeanne and Mike. We were a busy, active family before the accident. I was a mom that cooked a family dinner (most nights), helped with homework, played board games and was the first to offer up our house for a play date or a potluck dinner with friends.
Normal means the kids play sports. They each really only play one sport a season (except D), but we're now balancing 5 schedules. If we told D that he couldn't play baseball because it was too much for the family, he would blame the girls. If we made M and E not play/swim on the teams that did before they came to live with us, they would get yet another loss in addition to their parents, sisters, house, friends, and school. The decision may not be what's best for the whole family (or me), but the alternative seems worse. We get TONS of help with practices and games, but we still struggle with trying to make sure they each feel like we care about their individual stuff and that E's swimming, for example, isn't more important than A's soccer game.
Normal means I throw big, fun family parties for the kids' birthdays. I babysit for my nephew when I can. We have spontaneous play dates with cousins, go to mass on Sundays, family celebrations at the in-laws, and trips to the skate park, creek and the local ice cream place.
Keeping up with that normal isn't always easy. In fact, most days it's an absolute nightmare (again, well documented here). The alternative, though, emotionally feels worse. The accident pulled apart the seams of our family in so many ways. I CANNOT, I WILL NOT allow it to keep me from dreaming big for all five of our kids and letting them have the childhood and family life we want for them.
There are basic changes that we have made, and still need to make, that have and will help our family life run smoother. We're working with the kids to pick up the slack a bit around the house and be a little more independent. Financially, we really don't have the money to get any more help than we already have. The reality is that this new life is hard. It's been hard on me. It's been hard on K. It's been hard on the kids. It's been hard on our marriage and my relationship with the boys. It's heartbreakingly hard on the girls.
From the outside, people still want us to be that shiny new package or the happy ending from a sitcom where Bobby gets his new suit all dirty, but he does it saving the little girl's kitten (sorry Brady Bunch on my mind) and it all turns out okay (even when the washer overflows). Our box is worn and messy. It's ripped in one corner. It's dirty and complicated and filled with grieving, confused children and stressed adults.
It's also filled with lots of love and I'm hopeful that this love can sustain all of us in the desire for OUR normal. A normal with no boxes, just a family doing the best it can to live life to the fullest.