You’ve made your bed, now lie on it.

20 03 2013

The girls asked us not to ‘come out’. It wouldn’t just be embarrassing, it would be the end of their lives. They would be beaten up and bullied, forever ostracised. The boys weren’t too bothered, and never have been, but as I’ve said, they were younger. 

I didn’t mind keeping it quiet. It didn’t bother me that I wasn’t going to be shouting my mouth off about my new relationship. People close to us knew about it, and that’s all that mattered. Some people close to us did not approve, and that had been a big shock, so we became two women whose marriages had broken up and who decided that an affordable solution would be for all of us to share a house. In our defence, this wasn’t untrue. It just left out something rather significant.

When you’re in a ‘normal’ relationship, things pass you by. You don’t notice how women, when suddenly single, are viewed by others. A newly-divorced mum from the school playground once told  me that another divorcee had warned her about her new identity: ‘You’re single again, and the others will think you’re after their husbands.’ 

Nobody could accuse either Jen or I of being after anyone’s husband, but the husbands themselves certainly took a fresh interest. As for single dads, it was shocking how blind they could be to what was very obvious to many people. There we were, always together, always close, living in the same house, etc, etc. You didn’t have to be a Mastermind champion to make an educated guess about our situation, if you were at all interested. But I remember clearly having to lie to a rather persistent dad about Jen having a boyfriend who worked away. His poor little face fell at this news, but that didn’t stop him from telling me to tell her that he was a nice guy … as if he and I were in on the plot together. ‘Yeah, I’ll tell her. Of course I’ll tell her,’ I said, before fixing him with a steely ‘Shut your door on the way out’ look (I’m good at that one). 

The boys didn’t seem too concerned at having two mums, but they did know it was a bit of a secret. Oh, the power. I took six-year-old Vinnie to the optician one afternoon and in the dark lab, he was asked to relax back into the chair so that the optician could lean in and check his eyes.

‘is this how you lay back on the bed with Mum, Carol?’ Vinnie asked in the darkness. I was momentarily stuck for words. In fact I don’t think I recovered at all, just spluttered something, grateful that nobody could see me. Vinnie thought it was hilarious. He still does. 

Over time, things settled down and we were experiencing the same issues as any other family: moody children; hormones; the infamous ‘Year 8 child’; dodgy friends; homework dramas, and so on … Before long, we’d forgotten there was anything unusual about us. After all, we’d both doubled our child responsibilities, so there wasn’t time to gaze upon our respective navels. And over time, the children themselves settled into a way of life that they accepted. Having said that, we were still two families, two sets of likeness, two lots of family DNA.

It was never going to be straightforward.


19 03 2013

How do you bring children from two families together in a new home? How do you help them come to terms with this new set-up? How do you make them feel that they each belong?

You don’t. They do it themselves.

We tried to talk to the girls, we tried to thaw out the lingering mistrust each had of their ‘stepmother’. And we held onto our boys, probably because their lack of years meant less disapproval. But … we weren’t that good at it, actually. Our miserable inability to convince the girls that life wasn’t that bad became clear the day Ella took a kitchen knife and threatened to stab herself. On the surface, this was because she’d wanted to get her hair cut and her mother had refused. Of course, it was nothing to do with the sudden whim of a precocious child pushing the envelope because she ‘could’. It was the manifestation of the despair caused by our actions, the tearing apart of our families, the willful destruction of all they had held dear.

This is how it went:

Me: Don’t be silly. You’re not going to stab yourself.

Ella: (holding the pointy end of the knife towards her chest) I am!!!

Me: Okay … if you must. But that’s my knife, and I’d rather you did it with one of your own.

Ella: How can I? I don’t have one! Mum’s left them all at the old house!

Me: So you’ll have to wait until you can go to the old house. Meanwhile, you’re not using mine.

She put the knife back. There’s something about ‘possession’ a nine-year-old understands.

It wasn’t all bad. Just when we were wondering how all this was going to pan out (not us, the kids) we became aware of a pattern. All four went to the same primary school and would arrive home together. As the weather improved, they would all four enter by the front door and, all four, disappear out of the back door into the garden. We would watch through the kitchen window, suddenly redundant, as they climbed onto the trampoline and began the daily ritual of the ‘game’, in which they would pretend to be … well … children … with different names and different lives. Ella was boss and dictated activities, most of which involved elaborate jumps and ‘act outs’. Each child had to get into the middle when it was their turn to be the focus, and for Vinnie, this involved devising new acrobatics. So was the Flip Reverse It born. Don’t expect me to describe it. If I asked him to help me out with that one today, I still wouldn’t get it. Suffice to say – I could never have done it myself.

Actually, that brings me to my own trampoline activity. It was limited, and involved climbing on and lying in the middle, whilst the children jumped around me. The aim was to make me bounce as high as possible, completely at the mercy of wherever they landed. I’m not a small person, so presented a challenge to this aim. Children love a challenge, especially if it results in the focus of that challenge begging to get off and suffering an electric shock in the process.

As the girls got older, the trampoline lost its usefulness (unless as a mass seating area for the thirteenth birthday parties). The boys, however, continued to play on it until they, too, lost interest.

Some years later, the trampoline had to go. It had fallen into rusty misuse and we needed to smarten the garden up for a remortgage valuation. I tried to cut the metal bits so that I could get them into the car and take them to the tip, but found this difficult. I called on the boys for help, not really believing they’d fare any better. How wrong I was. The next day, I transported several neat pieces of metal and canvas to the tip, each prepared by our boys.


Not an easy start …

17 03 2013

Suddenly having step-children is not simple. That’s all I’ll say on the matter. Except that it’s even less simple when the older step-children (one each) are so embarrassed by the fact that their mother has become a lesbian that when you go to pick them up from primary school they ignore you, walk down the road so that you follow in the car like a kerb crawler, and get in only when out of sight of their friends. The oldest is Ella, nine going on nineteen. ‘Do you love my mum?’ she said to me when we broke the news. I said absolutely, I do, but somehow I wasn’t so sure she believed me.

Second oldest is my daughter, Erica. She added to Ella’s discomfort by wearing her trademark novelty hats – each day a different one from her selection – although they did come together in a mutual discomfort over their respective mothers.

The boys, Max and Vinnie, were quite young, six and five respectively. Two more different boys you could not wish to meet, but being so young, they didn’t ‘get’ the scandal we’d caused. They didn’t ‘get’ it for quite a while.

As for scandal, well, you’d have thought we’d killed someone and planted the body in the primary school pond. We lived in a village, you see, in the south of England. We had a friend who said at the time that you couldn’t do things like this in a village. According to her, if you want to be a lesbian, you have to go to London. My partner pointed out to her that there were already three same-sex couples in our village, and they were the ones we knew about. She had to wind her neck in after that, but I suspect she went on an immediate fact-finding mission in order to disprove the theory. I don’t know what she found out as she hasn’t mentioned our relationship since, not in ten years. We don’t see her very often.

My partner, by the way, is Jen. She’s lovely, and a bit of a saint. You’ll find out why during this blog.

I’m Carol. I guess it helps to know that.

The following posts will describe events and incidents that have taken place in our household over the years. As I said in the previous post, I think we’re normal. I’ll leave you to decide if you agree.

Back to the beginning –

17 03 2013

This is the story of a blended family. There are four children, two dogs, two octogenarians and us. By ‘us’, I mean myself and my partner, and we are both women.

I look at young, childless couples and I think how their lives will change when they have children. I look at young couples with one child and I think how their lives will change when they have their second, or third, or fourth. I look at families with one dog and think how they might manage with two. I look at families with four children and two dogs and wonder how they’d cope if Gran and Grandad came to stay. I think about that family and I wonder how that family would look if both parents were women. And I find myself here, at the start …. it’s my family …. What on earth was I thinking?

In the beginning it was a whirl of romance, adjustment, prejudice, shock and joy. I won’t go into the details but rest assured that both dads are okay and see their kids all the time. That’s about the the only ‘given’. Other than that, there is absolutely nothing else that we can predict in this household and nothing we can take for granted. Ten years on, nothing has changed. Sometimes I feel as if we are living in a social experiment that is being televised without our permission: a cross between Big Brother and The Truman Show. And yet, despite all this, I think we are normal.

I think we are the most normal family on earth.