I wanted to take the opportunity today to get a little personal with you, my trusted readers. Not that talking about stepfamily issues isn’t personal, but I usually write from a universal perspective.
Today, I write to you as a “survivor” of the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks. I put survivor in quotes, because while I am considered as such by the Port Authority because I worked there – and I’m still here -- the truth is, I never made it into the building that morning. And I didn’t get a speck of ash on me. But I was there. I was a little late for work, so instead of being inside, I saw it happening from the street. When I realized which floors of 2 WTC were hit and realized that my boss was in there, sounds came out of me that I never heard before. I couldn’t breathe. I was fortunate to find some colleagues on the street and in what could only be described as a surreal daze, we made our way uptown to another company location – to safety. A few hours later, I walked, still dazed, up to mid-town where my uncle worked and where he awaited with a ready hug.
I called my sister who lived in New Jersey and who was 6 months pregnant. Knowing that my family wasn’t sure of my status from one minute to the next as they watched the news, I greeted her with, “Well, your baby is going to have an aunt after all!”.
I was single at the time. My 3-year live-in relationship had ended one year earlier. I was single, maybe, but not alone. My friends were calling and visiting . . . even when I told them not to. Even when I told them I wanted to be alone. Somehow, they knew that I really didn’t. I always felt better when they were there. They knew when to talk, when to be funny and when to just.be.there.
I remained single for 9 years. Sure, I dated, but I didn’t get into anything that resembled a relationship. The events of that day somehow convinced me that I wasn’t going to live a long life. I thought I was going to die in some tragic accident. I survived the attack, but what if a car jumped the curb and got me? I soon learned that this was a common post-traumatic stress reaction, but that didn’t ease the nagging feeling that I shouldn’t get into a relationship because it would end pre-maturely. Because my life was going to end pre-maturely. And besides, I never minded being single. Getting married was not my MO. And having children was even less so. Way less. I did what I wanted, when I wanted and how I wanted. I lived a fulfilled and adventurous life. And I had the best group of friends anyone could ask for. Who needed to be beholden to other people?
But then something funny happened in 2010. Fate stepped in. I met a man who within weeks became my best friend. The person with whom I wanted to share the minutia of the day. The person who mattered. As Meredith would say on Grey’s Anatomy, he was “my person.” And, as fate would have it, he was the primary custodial parent of a then 10-year old boy and 15-year old girl. What? Two kids? Not me! Well, they were a package deal and the main part of the package was not something I was willing to give up. Just over 2 years later (and almost 1 year ago), we became an official family. This was not in any way what I planned for my life, but as Joseph Campbell famously said “We must be willing to give up the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”
While I often struggle with being part of a family, living with other people and having stepchildren (of all things!), today I am grateful that fate stepped in. I am grateful they all came into my life. I am grateful that I found a new calling in helping other stepfamilies with their unique challenges.
And maybe, just like when my friends knew that I really didn’t want to be alone in those days following 9/11, maybe I really didn’t want to go through life alone either. Maybe I really did want to have a family.
So, today, and whenever you get frustrated and need to remind yourselves that the life you chose (and you must remember that you chose it!) is all worth it, please take a moment to be grateful for your friends, your families and the fact that you are living in step. It’s a second chance for you, your partners and the children in your lives. The victims of that day don't get that chance. As I continue to say, being a stepparent is hard. But sometimes fate knows us better than we know ourselves.
I wish you all peace.