"Where's your sister?" Ava, my ex-husband, Scott's, three-old said to me yesterday. Her mother, Liz, is the same age as I, but I had kids quite young and Liz had them later, leaving me with a nineteen-year-old from the same man with whom she has a three-year-old and a five-year-old.
"You mean Maddie?" I asked, and I pointed to my older daughter, Ava's half-sister. "Or Ella?" And I pointed to my younger daughter from my second husband, David.
She nodded. Yes, she thought they were my sisters.
The relationship chart is confusing for a three-year old. The last time Scott visited us in Baltimore, his son, Parker, was calling me "the other mother" since I'm his older sister's mother. He doesn't realize that his mother is Maddie's stepmother-he doesn't know the step word yet and that seems fine with everyone.
Although the two little kids, Parker and Ava, couldn't properly explain the family tree, they understand that we are family, which means we hug them and kiss them and admire them when they dance and bounce and sing along with Justin Beiber. Before they were even born, when Maddie was spending a summer with her dad and Liz in Toronto, we sent Ella up for a visit. She was six, allowed to fly alone with a note as long as it wasn't a connecting flight. I took her to the airport in Baltimore, sat around until her flight took off and then came home and waited for the call from my ex-husband telling me that he had my daughter in his arms. That never happened, instead there were several frantic calls from Maddie and Scott, both in a panic because although Ella got on the plane, she never got off it. After a couple of terrifying hours (with Maddie reporting that her father was using the F word a lot and screaming at Air Canada officials), they located Ella in the detention room: a thirty-five pound gap-toothed girl sitting with the folks whose Arab names matched those on the no-fly list. Somehow the customs agent just couldn't understand why a girl whose mother and father were in Baltimore, was flying to see her mother's ex-husband and his wife in Toronto. He suspected foul play.
All this blended family love does not mean there haven't been blowouts. The four of us have argued many times, screamed at some point, cried a few times, hung up the phone at least twice, left the room on occasion, and frantically sent numerous email chains over the years. We are normal, in this sense. It is nearly impossible for four people to share a child over two different countries and not have conflict. But our joint interest, our love for this child, and for the three that followed has overridden everything. There has never been a visit cancelled, a lawyer called, or a holiday missed. In fact, my daughter rarely, if ever, even knew we had been fighting.
I feel about my ex-husband and his wife the way many people feel about cousins. They're family so we might fight and bitch and cry, but we'll always be part of each other's lives. And when we see each other, there's no putting on airs, no pretending that we're people different than our genuine selves, as everyone knows the score. Why should we ignore the universally known truths?
So now, here we are. My husband, David, and I rented a house in Toronto for a month and all of us—me, David, our daughter, Scott, my daughter with him, Liz, and the two little ones—hang out for the occasional dinner. They are about the only people we know in town. Our best friends here. And, in a way, our family.
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Just wanted to let readers know that Harper Perennial is having a 99 cent sale on ebooks this month. You can buy THE SUMMER OF NAKED SWIM PARTIES for 99 cents at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or many great independent bookstores (hooray for independent bookstores!).
Causes Jessica Blau Supports
Baltimore School for the Arts, 826DC, CityLit Project.