Thursday, October 6, 2011

Friends like these

I know there are a lot of people who don't understand it. Some who wonder how we do it. And others who think we are flat out nuts.

Mostly, those are the ones who don't know us very well. Those who do have just come to accept it. They still probably shake their heads, though.

That woman over there, sitting on my sofa, eating at my table, picking up my child on Tuesday afternoons just because, helping my husband and me coach our daughter's volleyball team, and giving me high fives when we won one without him? Yes, she is my friend. Yes, she is family. Yes, she is my daughter's Godmother.



She also is my husband's ex wife.

Go ahead.  I'll wait...

Cheryl is the woman my husband fell in love with in college. The woman he married in a big, splashy wedding at St. Louis Cathedral in the French Quarter. The woman who bore his two children. Who celebrated his first victories as a coach. Who waited for him at home. And waited.

One day she decided she had had enough of waiting for him to come home. He didn't see it coming.

Then one night I found him. In a bar. Trying to get his feet wet again. We fell in love.

Cheryl and I? Not so much.

Although we always were civil to and with each other, there were some awkward moments, especially at first. We are women, after all. No woman wants to see her man -- even the ones we don't want anymore -- with someone else. We want them miserable and missing us forever. Right?

So we had our tussles and our dustups. Nothing major. No shouting matches. No fisticuffs. Most involved the care and feeding of the children.

But it was the children that brought us together.

Besides coming from the same home town, Cheryl and I both are products of divorced parents wh didn't get along. We remembered the pain and angst of the anger in the room, and we both decided we didn't want that for our kids.

Yes, our kids.

Her children, Daniel and Courtney, are my kids too. I never asked them to choose between me and their mother. There was no choice. She came first, as it should be. They had their parents. And they had me. A bonus mom. Actually, in the early days they called me their "Semi-Mom."

Although, I have to say, I don't understand the whole stigma that goes along with the word "stepmom."  I'm proud to be one. A wicked one at that. And I don't mind the word at all.

Eventually, Cheryl and I figured out our pecking order. We found a comfort zone. Then we found that we genuinely liked each other. We formed a friendship.

When Courtney and her friends had to go see The Backstreet Boys and N'Sync at the Superdome, I was invited to go too. There, Cheryl and I made a pact. If Donny Osmond ever went on tour, we were going. Together.

When I heard the news that he indeed would be playing nearby in Mississippi, we did go. Together. Our husbands went to dinner.

One day when Daniel was playing baseball, Cheryl and I were sitting in the stands together. He was in the dugout and needed a Gatorade. He called to his mom. He called to me. Neither of us heard him, until he shouted, "Would ONE of my moms please get me a drink?"

And on the day of his wedding, I was on the front row, right next to his mother. And halfway through the mother-and-groom dance, she stopped, called me over, and oh-so-graciously passed her son -- our son -- on to me for my turn.

Lora's Christening
And when, after six years, Marty and I finally received our miracle child from God (and a woman named Gail), he and I barely had to discuss who her Godparents would be. Cheryl was an easy choice. First of all, her faith is inspirational. But more than that, we wanted -- no, needed -- to include her in the family circle. I didn't want her to call Lora, "their" child. I wanted her to have a "my."

And it was the best decision we could have made.

Not only does Lora adore her "Nanny," but Nanny loves her right back. And she and the children were the first to welcome us all home from the hospital.  And since then, this oh-so-creative kindergarten teacher has filled my house with handmade treasures for every occasion, all made with footprints and handprints of all three of my children.

She comes to our parties.  We go to hers.  We have sat together at weddings. And funerals.  Lora stayed with her when Marty and I went away for an anniversary weekend.

Like many of our acquaintances, Lora doesn't quite understand the complete dynamics of this relationship. (Daddy used to be married to Nanny?)

And, late to the party, Cheryl's husband, Henry, needed a little time to figure it all out himself. He has since come around. Lora calls him "Uncle." I call Henry's kids my step-step kids.

But people do question our little arrangement.  During our evacuation to Houston for Hurricane Ivan, my friend Janine introduced me to some of her book club members. Their jaws definitely dropped when I told them that my husband's ex wife was my daughter's Godmother. But not as wide as when I told them that I didn't have a dishwasher.


We even were included in a USAToday article a few years ago on blended families inspired by Ashton Kutcher, Demi Moore and Bruce Willis.  We are in good company, apparently.

Cheryl, Lora and me. Mardi Gras 2011

We certainly didn't do this to be role models for anybody.  We know that not everybody gets it. And we know that not everyone can do it.  Some hurts and anger can't be put away.  And we didn't do it to be on Oprah.

We just decided we would rather all be friends. Life is so much easier.  And much more fun. For us and our children.

Plus, she makes a mean pineapple dip for my luaus.






10 comments:

  1. I cried through this entire post. Wow. How inspiring. Thanks for sharing this experience with the universe. We'll all learn from it.

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  2. A fellow STL resident! GO CARDS!!

    What a beautiful story. Not only is it amazing you all have managed to suck it up and get along... you've managed to build a beautiful friendship on top of it! How blessed your children must feel!

    Visiting from lovelinks :^)

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  3. Wow, I am in awe of this. My personal experience with divorce is not so sunny. Our parents never did act like grown-ups much. Good for you and the role models you have provided YOUR children!

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  4. That just blew me away.
    You are amazing.
    I want more people to be like you, myself included.
    How lucky your family is that you are so open and focused on the positive enough to have a friendship with her. Great stuff!

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  5. Wow. Good for you. I'm not sure I'm that good of a person. I have jealousy issues. You're right, though. Getting along is so much easier. Much love to you and your blended family!

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  6. The kids are the biggest winners in this scenario. You adults have really done right by them. I wish it were possible to have such a fab relationship (or any relationship) with my husband's ex. Thanks so much for sharing your story :)

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  7. What great attitudes you all have! It is so much better for everyone to be friends.

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  8. Fantastic story and beautifully written, as usual. Shows you that as adults we can determine what our response is to a situation and decide to do what is best. Unlike NFL Head Coaches who cannot even shake hands properly.

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  9. Wow. I have to admit, I am like so many others I'm sure and was quite surprised to read the beginning of this post. I don't have kids, but my experience with divorce (my parents) has not been pleasant either. This story is inspiring, and I admire your ability to not only form a friendship with Cheryl, but to acquire such a strong one that you are involved in each other's lives and families in such meaningful ways.

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  10. I won't say "thanks" to all of you because that's not why we do what we do. I just have an ability and a forum to write about it (not to mention, Cheryl's permission). But I will say, thanks for reading. And for writing.

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