Living Happily Ever After


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Happy Birthday

“Brilliantly lit from stem to stern, she looked like a sagging birthday cake.” (Walter Lord)

Last week, I turned 44 years old and my husband turned 50 years old. On the same day. I remember the night I found out we shared the same birth date…and how I wasn’t sure I was thrilled about that. Second marriage moment #23? I changed my mind!

It happened like this.

My husband came home from work one day, said he found a great hotel deal in Las Vegas and that he thought we should take advantage of it to celebrate our birthdays. It immediately hit me like a ton of bricks: sharing a birthday with my husband just might not be too bad! I agreed to go.

But sadly, as the birthday approached, I began to have second thoughts: we shouldn’t spend the money, I’d never not been with my children on my birthday before, work was busy, who would supervise the children while we were gone? Then shortly before the trip, an extended family member scheduled a wedding we needed to attend and my husband announced, “I don’t think we can do both. Maybe we shouldn’t go to Las Vegas.”

As he voiced what I had been thinking and feeling all along, I suddenly realized how much I wanted to go. How important it was, to me, to go. (I’m not sure why. But I will say in a remarriage, in my experience, there are so many things already decided for you. It is never just you and your husband, alone, and deciding what you want or what is best for you and then doing that. You begin your marriage and attempt to build a new family, with two other already existing families, and children, in place. You never, or rarely, have the luxury of considering only your needs—not to mention you start out your marriage with so many things you can’t control, or do, due to the choices of others.) Maybe it was just a moment of stubbornness where I couldn’t have one more person make one more choice and decide something for me, or have one more person’s choice affect my plans and my life, but for some reason I felt it was important to get away to Las Vegas with my new husband.

So I said, “It’s my birthday. It’s your birthday. It’s our six month wedding anniversary. You got a great deal on a hotel. There isn’t a present or gift I want. And although every remarried couple we know told us the most important thing we should do as a remarried couple is to get away alone, without children, as often as we can—even every month—we haven’t done it once. I think I’m going to Vegas, and I hope you’ll join me!”

We went to Vegas.

We went cheap. We ate inexpensively. We didn’t see any shows. But we enjoyed all our hotel had to offer, and especially enjoyed our time alone together and the chance to talk and laugh together, for 57 hours, uninterrupted! Turns out, sharing your birthday with your spouse has its perks, too. When the hotel spa found out it was our birthday, they gave us a complimentary visit. And unexpectedly, my husband’s boss called and told me take my husband out to dinner for his birthday—on him. So I had crab legs (my favorite thing in the world, next to lobster) for the first time in two years—since beginning my unexpected life.

Who cares if you or your birthday cake is sagging with age or years…as long as you’re sagging on a birthday getaway with your husband? Not me.

“I should be committed to an institution immediately for even thinking I could get away with that…” (Johnny Depp)

Officially My Stepson

And then, not too long ago, my stepson officially became my stepson. Need I say more? Second marriage moment #22.

I knocked on his bedroom door to talk to him about something. Apparently, he wasn’t dressed but he opened his door for me anyway and announced, “I’m in my underwear.” (Because mothers don’t notice things like that!) We had our conversation and…that was that.

Little by little you become family. Especially in a remarriage. In the most unexpected of ways.

“The great gift of family life is to be intimately acquainted with people you might never even introduce yourself to, had life not done it for you.” (Kendall Hailey,The Day I Became an Autodidact)

Officially A Stepmother

Prior to my unexpected life, most of my embarrassing moments involved…underwear.

Like the day in second grade I went to the restroom, accidentally and unknowingly tucked the back of my dress into my underwear, and returned to class where Kevin Wanebo (you never forget some moments, some people, do you?) pointed my mistake out to me and the rest of the class. White panties with pink rosebuds. That’s what I was wearing that day in my most embarrassing moment.

Until 2005. I was nine months pregnant with my fourth child, talking to a very nice, younger married man from my church congregation when suddenly I noticed he was looking anywhere and everywhere but at ME while we talked. Right about the moment I noticed that, I also happened to notice a cool breeze blowing in the vicinity of my “nether regions.” I looked down and was horrified to see…my skirt puddled on the floor around my ankles—leaving me standing there, once again (you guessed it!) in my underwear.

From that moment on, and thanks to a few other memorable moments, I was pretty sure I had the market cornered on embarrassment. And then in 2009, thanks to the actions of another, I’m pretty sure I proved it.

Ironic that second marriage moment #21 also involved underwear. Or as I like to call it, the moment I officially became my stepson’s stepmother.

It was accidental (as are many pivotal moments, I’m convinced.) I was getting ready for the day and hadn’t dressed yet, my stepson walked into my room to ask me a question and caught me without my clothes on. I wasn’t sure what to do; I didn’t want to embarrass him or me further, so I tried to ignore the fact I was standing there in my underwear, finished the conversation with him and tried to act like it was no big deal.

I sent a text at the conversation’s conclusion after my stepson left. To his dad, my husband. I texted: “It’s official. I am officially your son’s stepmother.”

He texted me RIGHT back for more details. I think my husband was probably panicked our relationship was “official” because I had disciplined his son or some dreaded event like that that my husband would need to get in the middle of and help smooth things over about. But I told him it was nothing like that.

It was much bigger. Underwear. Mine. So I guess it’s official. We’re family now. Water (or unmentionables) under the bridge.

“This morning when I put on my underwear I could hear the fruit-of-the-loom guys laughing at me.” (Rodney Dangerfield)

“Idiot” To Awesome…In 18 Years!

“Any man can make mistakes, but only an idiot persists in his error.” (Marcus Tullius Cicero)

I’ve seen it over and over again in my life: when you live with someone, some adjusting and compromising is required for a happy home life. This is true for roommates, newlyweds, brothers and sisters, families and especially, blended families.

If you’re smart, you learn this natural law early and skip some of the strife failing to humble yourself and compromise with those you live with (and love) brings.

However, some accept change more willingly than others. Some adapt to the living arrangements more easily than others. Some seem more willing to compromise than others. And then there are a select few that seem to think if they resist long enough, if they refuse to compromise, said change (ie. life) will not be required!

Boy, wouldn’t that be nice? Like a cocktail party, to be served life on a platter prior to living it? To be able to say, “No thanks, I’ll not have some of that!” or “No thank you, I’ve had enough” or “I don’t want that change, so I don’t have to accept it!” or “I’m full. No more for me!”

Instead, we are blessed with life and change and unexpected lives and situations. Like everything else, though, I believe living together peacefully is a choice. It simply requires patience to wait (and endure) until others in the household choose to accept, adapt, adjust, compromise and settle in.

One day my oldest and I were chatting. He, as the oldest child in our household, has been very helpful and patient in helping younger children settle in to the new family situation. That day he commented on the struggle he observed one child having with some aspects of the blended household. I agreed with his observations and told him I had noticed the same thing but didn’t see any solution other than to continue to cheerfully and patiently endure the transition.

My son laughed and said, “Mom, sometimes I just want to make it easier for them and say, ‘Dude, give it up. You’re never going to win this one.’”

I asked, “What do you mean, ‘win’?”

He explained, “You know, get away with things that are wrong, inappropriate, disrespectful or against the house rules. It’s never going to happen.”

I clarified, “Oh? How do you know?”

He exclaimed, “Because you raised me! Mom, you’re one of THE strongest people I know. It’s a battle that can’t be won. I know, because I tried to ‘break you’ for 18 years and you never once ‘cracked’!”

I wasn’t sure how to take that, but before I could respond he added, “And I’m so glad and grateful you didn’t—because look how awesome I turned out!”

“Awesome: extremely impressive; inspiring great admiration; extremely good; excellent.” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

Yes, he is. And it only took…18 years. (Just kidding! Children are born “awesome,” they simply increase in “awesomeness” over the years. And if I haven’t said it lately, I’m grateful to be a mother:)

Two Worlds

“Culture is roughly anything we do and the monkeys don’t.” (Lord Raglan)

Remarriage means attempting, and learning how, to blend two completely different worlds. Two different lives. Two different families. And as #5 wisely observed, basically, “two completely different cultures.”

Second marriage moment #19? The reality and sum of the remarriage equation in my world: ex-wife/mother of stepchildren plus wife/mother of other children equals two completely different, opposite, family worlds. And its ramifications confront you, literally, every single day to those who live together. As optimistic as I prefer to be, I confess, it is not always an easy reality. Mark that second marriage moment #19a. (A difficult pill to swallow, at times, for the overly optimistic me.)

So how do you deal with it? I believe you handle it  like any other challenge in life, expected or otherwise: laugh. Because family, blended or otherwise, and “Rastafari not a culture, it’s a reality.” (Bob Marley) There are some pretty crazy, and darn funny, moments, aren’t there? Sometimes all you can do is shake your head and laugh.

Lastly, never forget that challenges are meant to be overcome; that they CAN be overcome. Second marriage moment #19b: the day my youngest sister, remarried and a stepmother for almost a decade now, told me: “Hang in there. EIGHT YEARS LATER, it’s a LOT better!” Oh, good. Only seven years, 7 months to go! Lol.

But I believe it can be done. And I’m going to be one of many who successfully does it. Anyone can, even if they don’t always think they can, like those moments of, “WHAT have I gotten myself into?” I imagine even original, biologically-related parents of families might wonder that on occasion, as well, huh?

Those moments are when we listen to Oprah. “Do the one thing you think you cannot do. Fail at it. Try again. Do better the second time. The only people who never tumble are those who never mount the high wire. This is your moment. Own it.” (Oprah Winfrey)

That’s what I’m doing. I’ve mounted the high wire of remarriage and blending families; there have been some great moments. In fact, “I’ve had quite a few moments I’ve liked, so it’s good enough.” (Bryan Ferry)

And I’m looking forward to many more.

Second Marriage Moment #18: Family Vacation

“It would seem that something which means poverty, disorder and violence every single day should be avoided entirely, but the desire to beget children is a natural urge.” (Phyllis Diller)


We have quite a few of them, thanks to our remarriage. Eight, to be exact. (Plus one daughter-in-law.) And we recently took all of them on our first family vacation.

It was quite a feat (not just the traveling as a group of 11 part, but in even pulling it off financially, not to mention coordinating the calendars of 11 different family members and 7 different work and vacation schedules to find dates that worked for everyone!) My husband, the two youngest children and I flew ahead of the rest of the group; the 7 teens/young adults flew to our destination a few days later. We met them at the airport.

I hugged my daughter and asked how her flight was. She reported the adventure of having a conversation with a woman sitting next to her on the airplane. Apparently, the group was seated in three rows of two, with my daughter sitting across the aisle from the group. The woman asked, “Are you traveling alone?”

My daughter replied, “No. I’m traveling with my brothers and sisters.”

The woman commented, “You’re a little young to be traveling alone, aren’t you?” She wanted to know who the brothers and sisters were. My daughter pointed to the three rows of passengers (ages 13-24) across the aisle and the woman was stunned to realize how large the group was. “There are so many of you— and no parents!”

My daughter explained, “Yes, our parents flew out early for our dad’s birthday.”

The woman nodded, knowingly, and said something about the parents getting away alone and leaving the children behind. My daughter clarified, “Oh no, our parents took the two youngest children with them!”

The woman’s face showed her surprise as she mentally calculated the total number of children that had to be connected to just one family, our family, and asked one more question, “Where are you from?”

My daughter replied, “Utah.”

Conversation over! I guess that state explained it all, because the woman didn’t talk to my daughter after that.

As my daughter related her travel experience, the others shared similar stories. The oldest daughter reported she’d also had a lot of strangers comment on the size of her family and said she handled all conversations with a quick explanation: “It’s a ‘Yours, Mine & Ours’ family.”

Not that I doubted their experiences, but I was surprised to have one of my own on the return flight. We boarded as a group and as we stepped on the plane, a flight attendant asked me, “Is this a family reunion?”

I shook my head and answered, “No, it’s just a family vacation.”

The flight attendant looked at me with big eyes, like she wasn’t sure she believed me. I added, “Really, we’re just one dad, one mom, eight kids and one in-law.”

Before I could explain further, the oldest daughter swooped in to rescue me with her well-practiced, “It’s a ‘Yours, Mine & Ours’ family.”

All I can say is that if fellow travelers couldn’t believe the size of our family, there’s something they would have to have seen to believe as well: the packed cars filled with all 11 of us, our suitcases and everything else the kids hauled on vacation.

Apparently, “Those that say you can’t take it with you never saw a car packed for a vacation trip.”

Second Marriage Moment #16

“Who dares to teach must never cease to learn.” (John Cotton Dana)

Second marriage moment #16? Teaching a marriage and family relations class together.

I had to laugh when our pastor asked #5 and me to teach the course. Yes, we do have 40 years of marriage experience between us but… we also have two divorces.

We’re halfway through our assignment now and I recommend it to everyone, regardless of how long you’ve been married. What a great way to begin a marriage: with a marriage relations class!

We’ve been reminded of a lot, we’ve learned some new things and as it turns out, it has also been a fabulous way to fix “little things.” For example, rather than telling your partner about a potential issue, you can just have them teach the part of the lesson about it and it’s taken care of without you ever having to say a word!

“Learn everything you can, any time you can, from anyone you can; there will always come a time when you will be grateful you did.” (Sarah Caldwell)

Learning is how we grow. I’m so grateful that life (and marriage) is a continual process of learning; it keeps things interesting AND fun.

A News Story

It’s official.

Another opportunity for me and my children to share some of what we have experienced and learned in our unexpected life.

Jennifer Stagg, a news personality on NBC affiliate Channel 5, in Salt Lake City, Utah, did a story on our family which aired last week.

Here is the link to see the news story, if you’re interested:

What I noticed most about this opportunity was the continued healing that has taken place in myself and my children, especially my middle son. He was just 9 years old when his world shattered; too young to understand a lot of what was taking place and to understand why it was happening. However, last week’s interview reminded me that a lot of growing up takes place from 9 years old to 11 years old!

Although this particular child didn’t want to participate in the interview, he agreed to stay in the yard and play while it was taking place. And then, unexpectedly, before the filming wrapped, he came in the house and hung around the film crew. I asked, “Is there something you want to say?”  He replied, “Yes.”

So Jennifer sat down and asked him some questions, including things about his old life, things about his new life, what he had learned and how he felt about it all.

As for what he missed about his old life? The fields behind our Colorado home that he played and rode his dirt bike in–and his friends. “If you have friends and family, that’s all you really need to be happy though,” he explained. “And I’m happy in my new life. My new life is just as good.”

“Really? What do you like about your new life?” asked Jenn.

“That I have a stepdad who is really nice, nice to me, who really likes me and who I really like.” (Too bad #5 was out of town on a business trip and didn’t get to hear that, huh? I shared it with him when he got home!)

He concluded by offering his wisdom: hard things happen, you just have to carry on.

Count his emotional well-being and healthy outlook and happiness in life as yet another miracle we’ve been blessed with, thanks to the triumph of living…the unexpected life.

“We are all broken and wounded in this world. Some choose to grow strong at the broken places.” (Harold J. Duarte-Bernhardt)

He sure has.


“I got gaps; you got gaps; we fill each other’s gaps.” (“Rocky”)

If #5 isn’t having a second marriage moment, I’m right there to have one for him. (Or vice versa.) I guess you could say we fill each other’s gaps in more ways than one! I believe the next second marriage moment came right on the heels of the previous one.

The Sunday #5 and I gave our talks in church, a leader of our congregation pulled us aside and asked us to teach the Marriage and Family Relations class they wanted to offer as part of the Sunday School program. Of course we said we’d do it, but as the man walked away I started to laugh.

“What?” asked #5. “What do you find so funny?”

“The class,” I replied.

“Why? It’s a great class. I’ve actually participated in one before,” he said.

I  couldn’t stop laughing as I explained, “I just find it hilarious that they’ve asked two previously DIVORCED people, who have been married 2 weeks, to teach the marriage class!”

That was #4. (As in, moments–not men!)

And I had to love you-know-who all the more for the fact that he responded, in all seriousness, to my humorous look at our new assignment and for the counsel he offered:  “I wouldn’t make an issue of that or a big deal about that to the class participants,” he advised.

Got it. Will do, #5. But I’m pretty sure everyone knows that about us, even if I don’t verbalize it.:)

“A word to the wise ain’t necessary, it’s the stupid ones who need the advice.” (Bill Cosby)

And Dinner Was Served

“Men are like fine wine. They all start out like grapes, and its our job to stomp on them and keep them in the dark until they mature into something you’d like to have dinner with.” (Kathleen Mifsud)

Unless you’re #5 and you start out mature (ie. older) and YOU do the stomping by dumping your fiancee BEFORE dinner! It happened like this…

On that fateful Sunday night, #5 had invited his family to my home for dinner. He arrived early to help with preparations, all of our children were in the basement and we were in my kitchen. Somehow we got on the subject of two children (one of his, one of mine) and we had a disagreement.

“Thus, we see that one of the obvious origins of human disagreement lies in the use of noises for words.” (Algred Korzbyski)

He dug his heels in in defense of his son, I dug my heels in in defense of my son, and things degenerated from there. It got so petty we even argued about the boys’ ages. When I suggested his son was the older child so he should set more of the example, he corrected me, saying his son was just one year older so they were basically the same age. In a burst of maturity I got even more petty by correcting the age difference: “Well, if you’re going to get so specific and picky about it, your son is actually 19 MONTHS older–and two years older in school!” (Wow. 19 months. Two years in school.  That’s a lifetime. Petty, I know.)

Unexpectedly, he stood up and said he would get his son and leave. He had NEVER done that before, by the way. He turned and walked out of the room. I stood there, alone in my kitchen, stunned.

I was dumbfounded.

Leave? Because of a disagreement? When his family was due to arrive any minute? We hadn’t had many disagreements our entire engagement–I think I’ve chronicled all two of them–but he headed to the basement to call his son. For some reason, I followed him.

“You’re just going to leave?” I asked.

He was. He said he was sorry, but that he just couldn’t do it anymore. That maybe the timing was bad. That he’d never planned to get married until his son was 18, but then he’d met me and it had changed everything. However, after all of the time we had spent together and during the course of our long engagement, there were things that hadn’t changed and he didn’t know what else to do–so he was leaving.

I was appalled. “You’re going to leave, without even fighting FOR us?”

Before he could answer, in the pause, the doorbell rang.

His family.

It was like a bad movie.

Too late to leave, #5 expressed his displeasure with a roll of his eyes, muttered, “Oh, CRAP!” and then kicked into performer/entertainer mode. He answered the door with a smile, acted like everything was fine and normal, was friendly to everyone (except me) and prepared to serve dinner. Unfortunately, I’m not an actress.

His brother walked in, took one look at me and asked, “Andrea, are you all right?” To which I lied, “Yes, fine!” He looked at me, puzzled, and asked again, “Are you sure? You look tired or something.” I changed the subject and carried on. Or attempted to, anyway.

Later, as the kids came up for dinner, my high school son walked in, took one look at me and asked, “Mom? Are you all right? What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” I lied.

And dinner was served.

“Here they are, top of the food chain, and dinner is served.” (Jeffrey Jones, “The Devil’s Advocate”)