31 January 2005

Single...With Children: Blended Families, Blended Celebrations - It's Possible To Share The Joy!

Single with Children: Child's graduation a surreal experience

Publication Date: 06/12/02

Surreal. That's the only word that comes close to describing what it was like to see my daughter walk across the stage and accept the diploma that she has worked 12 long years to earn. As I sat in the stands for the ceremony, alongside my son, my best friend (and date) and my daughter's father, stepmother and of course, Katie's boyfriend, it almost felt like watching a movie or something I was merely observing, rather than intricately and most personally involved. I think this kind of "disconnection" was necessary; otherwise someone would probably have escorted me out of the auditorium, finding it difficult to hear the procession and list of graduates' names over my unbridled weeping.

As it turned out, I was almost proud of myself as I sat there calmly, feeling so blessed that I have been privileged to mother a young lady who, in my admittedly biased opinion, has pretty much graced me with laughter, honor and more than a little pride. After we exited the auditorium, it was time for photographs to record the event for posterity. A few final additions to a rather stuffed baby book recording an adventure I could never have imagined. This, too, presented its own surreal moments. The first few photos featured the happy graduate, my son, my former husband and me. Then we had a couple of photos taken with the newer members of this blended family: Katie's stepmother looking genuinely proud, a couple of photos with the man I'm dating who is a favorite with both my son and daughter. Everyone beaming with the cap and gown-clad young lady who took center stage. I think my daughter's favorite photo was the one that included her boyfriend, towering above all of us at 6 foot 5 inches tall.

We continued the celebration at the restaurant of my daughter's choice and sat down to a scrumptious meal. I will admit I was nervous about this part. Though I had spoken to my former husband's wife several times on the phone, I had met her a couple of times before, but only briefly. I also reminded myself that she was probably feeling a little apprehensive. Moreover, she was preparing to sit down to a dinner that included my parents as well.

When we were led to our long table, my former husband and his wife sat directly across from me and my date. I couldn't help but wonder if I were in a film that Steve Martin had penned. Of course it would be civil, but beyond that, I really had no clue as to what to expect. This was relatively new territory for all of us, so we began, as most people probably do in unfamiliar, slightly awkward situations, with good, old reliable small talk. I noticed that at the other end of the table, a few glances were surreptitiously cast our direction, no doubt wondering if things were going well.

About a half-hour into dinner, I was conversing easily with the woman who is now the stepmother of my son and daughter. She shared with us some of the things going on with her own two teen-age daughters, one of whom will graduate next year. Pretty soon, it was more like I was talking to a friend, someone who is a mom just like I am. A lot of my own preconceived notions started fading away with the last minutes of daylight. It was, in a word, very warm and much more comfortable than forced civility.

As we lingered over after-dinner coffee, I couldn't help but whisper thanks to God that this day had turned out better than I could have ever planned. I also had to admit that my former husband had made a very good choice and that my son and daughter were most fortunate to have such a compassionate, kind stepmother. Every person in our small gathering had one very important thing in common: celebrating the achievements of the graduate.

As I looked over the photographs of the big day, I saw happiness, love and support. I also imagined that in three years it will be my son's turn to be the star of the day. When that time comes, I have a feeling that the slight trepidation I felt graduation morning will be erased and I will look forward to catching up again. After all, there will no doubt be weddings, grandchildren and who knows what else that will bring us all together again. Our lives with our former spouses and their new families will forever be intertwined because of our shared children. This fact alone makes forging a positive relationship even more important.

A few of my close friends were eager to know how everything turned out during this important weekend. One of them also had managed to find his own experience with his former spouse pleasant and stress free. A couple of my friends related that this would never happen in their future. I don't think this should be viewed as a personal failure. I reminded them that things wouldn't have gone so smoothly, in my own situation, without the contribution and determination of both sides of the parental equation.

Some folks can't make something happen that requires everyone's cooperation, and therefore, it's not a character flaw on the parent who is trying to work toward "normalized" relations. Having said that, I feel that one should always keep the door open. There is always hope, and some hearts just take a little longer to soften. Most parents I know would bend over backward to make their children happy. Sometimes it helps to think of this as another opportunity to do just that.

Readers can e-mail Susie at Susiewrites@gmail.com or write to her c/o Amarillo Globe-News, Features Department, P.O. Box 2091, Amarillo, TX 79166.

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