This post is inspired by people who talk shit about their step-parents. I realize some of said shit talking is totally warranted and I don't know your family so maybe I should just shut up. Obviously if you've read anything else I've written you know I'm not going to.
It took a very long time and an entire childhood for me to erase the line between family and stepfamily. I never thought I would. My stepfamily is no different than anyone else's. They didn't always belong to me, but now they do. It's a big deal. So what creates a family when you don't have blood to bind it?
My stepfather's name is Todd. I met him when I was 16 and he married my mother a year later. When we met, I had seen three divorces, two step-parents, four step-brothers, and several long-term relationships my mother and father had along the way. I wasn't really interested in Todd.
For the first few months I sort of pretended he wasn't there. I figured he'd become just another step-something and I had already seen my fill, thank you. Then something interesting happened. Brandon and Blake.
Brandon and Blake are my step-brothers. They're twins, and currently 19 years old. The day I met them they were four. They bounded into the apartment I lived in with my mother and brother with their long blonde hair and unintelligible toddler babble. Blake said something like "gah blah goop," and Todd translated "oh, he just wants some juice."
Seeing Todd be a dad to these two adorable humans was like someone shaking me awake. Todd loves his kids the way my mom loves me. Read that sentence again. I've never forgotten it. He's a Daddy. For the record he was an excellent daddy, very firm in his discipline but still really fun to hang out with. The three of them were like this cool little unit, something I hadn't seen, ever. I thought my mom, my brother Scott, and me were the only family of three that could feel like that.
By the time we became a family of six I was really into this whole "Todd" thing. I noticed that all these great things were happening. We moved into a big house together. We had a dog. My mother was happy. Good heavens. I had things in common with Todd. We're both huge nerds. We like tech gadgets and hockey and pancakes. This stepfamily thing might not be so bad.
Around this time I stopped speaking to my biological father. It's been a decade since. In that decade, Todd has been there for me as I left for college, lost my grandmother, graduated from college, graduated from law school, and hugged my bother when he came home safely from Iraq. My "real" dad missed it all.
When speaking to others, Todd refers to me as his daughter. He has since he married my mom. I can't refer to him as my dad because that word doesn't do him justice. Instead I call him "Toddles", my name for him that he never seems to mind. If a dad is defined as a male parental figure who loves you and wants the best for you and shares in the good and bad times of your life, that's a Toddles, no doubt. But if I hadn't made the decision to really let him be my parent, I think we'd be struggling. We're not.
So I had this "Todd" thing down. We were cool spending time together and being genuinely interested in each others lives. But there was still the matter of Brandon and Blake. They were five the day our parents married, and I was so worried they wouldn't get that I was their sister. I adored them and considered them my brothers without question. But how do you explain "step-sister" to two little critters whose main interests are soccer and Pokemon?
In kindergarden, the twins actually had their grandmother as their teacher. Each day before lunch she would line her class up at the door using a different attribute. Everyone born in April go to the door first. Everyone with brown eyes go to the door first. One day she said:
"Everyone with a sister, go to the door first."
Without hesitation, Brandon and Blake lined up at the door. Their grandmother and teacher, knowing them well, called them out.
"Brandon and Blake sit down, you don't have a sister."
Both: "Uh-huh, Shani!"
They get it.