When you have a blended family it can take a while before you get to the point where you feel like a real family instead of a set of individual relationships. For a long time, family is a process more than a thing you are.
When Charlie was born and Nate came to live with us full time four years ago, we made a giant leap forward in "familiness," yet we certainly had more work to do for Josh and I to be full parents to all the kids and for the boys to be truly brothers.
A few months ago, I began to notice that something had shifted. Nate, Ellis, and Charlie were spending a lot of time together and seemed really to enjoy it. Perhaps my pregnancy with Isaac sent out yet another signal that this thing we were doing was for real. Perhaps, like all things related to the growth of children, it happened gradually, imperceptible in the familiarity of day to day life together until it was finally noticed as a fait accomplis.
Last Saturday, we went to a party to which we all have been going together for the past six years or so. For me, this party at the home of some of Josh's old friends has been a barometer of how well we were doing at our task of blending. For many years, we felt very compartmentalized, but this year was magically different.
At the party, Ellis was having a hard time being ganged up on by a group of kids. He came to find me, and I suggested that he take a break from them while I got him a plate of food. Then Charlie came over ready, as always, to play with Ellis, who is one of his favorite people in the world. Then Nate started talking to Ellis, asking if he wanted him to go over and add some big brother muscle to the situation, and reassured him that sometimes people are just jerks. I remember saying to Ellis, "No matter what, you'll always have your brothers," and he knew that this statement was true. Finally, when Ellis wanted to go back and play with the group, Josh added a little dad protection to the situation, by stating that if anyone had trouble getting along they should talk to him. Turns out the kids realized Ellis was cool after all and protected by a big, loving family. Problem solved.
That night, riding home in the van, we all realized how much we like each other and how we've come to depend on each other for comfort, for laughter, sometimes for a good fight, and always to share our lives together in that big complicated mess that is family.