I have written many blogs in the last year. Most of these have been long, sad, self-indulgent blogs about my divorce and wedding rings and dead dogs and how Robin Williams' death affected me SUPER PERSONALLY. I didn't post any of these blogs because you're welcome. Consider it a little gift, from me to you, that came at the expense of my comedian friends, with whom I talked about my grief A LOT and IN GREAT DETAIL because apparently, I have NO INTERNAL PROCESSING CAPABILITIES. If I was an iPhone, this would be a "known issue", and something about which Amazon customers left scathing one star reviews.
Lots of things have happened since I last blogged, the biggest being that after much cold-feeting, my three kids and I moved in with my boyfriend and his three kids. We are officially Brady Bunching this bitch. This move brought my total child count to 750, and has presented many challenges I did not expect. My stepkids lost their mom two and half years ago to suicide, which added a whole 'nother layer of complexity to the whole shebang. I tend to be overly optimistic and naive about things (KNOWN ISSUE, GUYS), and integrating our households was no different. I was confident (see also: prideful) that my HUMUNGOUS CAPACITY FOR LOVE AND PATIENCE was going to make this transition go at least semi-smoothly for everyone. This was sometimes true and sometimes very, very not true. Here's the thing about grief: it's like the Spanish Inquisition, no one can expect it. For the first few months, I stood at the ready, armed with tissues, waiting for meltdowns that never melted. The kids bickered some as they settled in, but they all seemed to accept the situation without much fuss. Maybe, I thought, we somehow miraculously skipped over the anger and hurt I was anticipating in blending our two families. Maybe the family meetings we held let everyone feel heard about their concerns. Maybe having a weekly Kung Fu Night, in which we ate Chinese food and watched Jackie Chan movies, bonded us and made the transition easier. Maybe my parenting was just SO GOOD, it was like love-teflon, nothing bad could stick to it.
But then, we got a new couch. The old couch came from my stepkids' mom's house. and was hard loved. It smelled like rotten milk and had multiple stains on its flattened cushions. A friend of mine was getting rid of her couch, and it had this cool fold out pillow thing that could fit bunches of kids, which is what we now had, so we switched it. What followed was a grief tsunami. All, it seemed, of my stepkids' adoration and connection to their mother had been in that couch. To me, it was just a couch, to them it was one more thread in their ever-dwindling fistful of mom balloon strings being cut. They cried and screamed and cursed the unfairness of a world where moms and couches could disappear. I did my best to console them, but sometimes, it was like shouting condolences into a tornado. After it all subsided, my own kids looked at me like, what in the flying fuck are we doing here? We had a good thing going, just the four of us. We've been through enough. Why would you move us into this complicated mess? And for a few days, I didn't have an answer. I took them to McCall, away from their stepsiblings, and we swam in the hotel pool and watched Iron Chef America. "I miss our old family," my youngest son told me. "Me too, sometimes" I said, and we both cried. It's hard to let go of what we were, even if it presented its own set of obstacles and hardship. Afterward, we snuggled and ate cup of noodle soup, and on the drive back to Boise, they were excited to see their stepsiblings, and couldn't wait to get home. We weathered that storm, and many others since, and I have been constantly impressed with the grace and adaptability of all my kids.. All 950. It is a strange thing to live with a ghost. My stepkids' mom lives in the Christmas decorations and in the neatly labelled craft tubs. I didn't know her when she was alive, but I sometimes find her intimidating, even in death. I was never so organized or creative. I worried at first that my stepkids would be disappointed that I didn't sew Halloween costumes or make handmade cards, but they accepted me as I was. We made it through our first Christmas with only one freak-out per kid, amazing stats, considering how landmine-filled the holidays felt. This, my counselor tells me, is what success in our situation looks like. Our children learning to live with one another and us, building stability and love with patience and understanding. Everyone grieving what they need to grieve, and feeling they have a safe place to go through the process, no matter how ugly it can be.
And sometimes, it's pretty ugly. Last week, angry because I had grounded him from video games, my stepson shouted that he hated me and himself, and that he didn’t know why he was even born. Everyone, I calmly told him, feels that way, it's like rule one of the human condition. People become doctors and alcoholics and artists and serial killers, all to hide from the echoing silence that answers when we ask ourselves “why the fuck was I even born?” He glared at me. “You don’t understand,” he said. “It’s way worse for me.” That, I told him, is rule number two. Our pain always feels way worse than anyone else's. I told him that what had happened to him hurt terribly and would never be okay, but his pain didn't give him a right to be nasty to his family. "You are not my family!" he screamed and stormed to his bedroom, slamming the door.
An hour later, he came out and hugged me., crying, and said he was sorry for ruining everyone's night. I hugged him back and told him it was okay, that no matter what, I was his family, and he was my kid even when he was sad and angry and slamming doors, and that was what a family was: a group of people who took turns ruining it for everyone else, but loved each other all the same. "Is that rule three?" he asked. "Because it should be."
So, there you have it, lovely readers, everything I've learned in the last two years, distilled down into three simple house rules: 1) We don't know why we were born, and sometimes, we hate ourselves. 2) This hurts and hurts and hurts like no one else could imagine. 3) So get yourself a family, dummy, and it will hurt a little less.
(This is an adapted excerpt from Emma's book "Notion Sickness", available in summer 2015) [Note: if this was the thing I posted, just try to imagine how heavy the other stuff was, then go to a comedy show and support my incredibly tolerant comic friends.]