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Jan 11

Having a big family, and why I’m confused by it

Am I having my third or my fifth child? It’s my third, it’s my husband’s fifth. And depending on where you know me from, I’m either out of my mind crazy to be having my FIFTH, or oh, that’s sweet, you’re having your third.

I feel like it’s a bigger statement, this is my fifth child, than this is my third. I have a six year old, a three and a half year old, and I’m pregnant, due in April. Or holy moly, I have a ten year old, an eight year old, a six year old, a three year old, and yep, I’m a glutton for punishment and doing it again.

Why am I so conflicted by this? I get confused when people are shocked that I’m pregnant, and almost a little embarrassed when I see that look on their faces, that look that says, seriously – FIVE KIDS??? But it’s not really my fifth, I want to say. It’s only my third. I only have two children that I am responsible for. We have my stepdaughters a lot, more than most step families, I think, but the majority of the time, I’m only dealing with my two. And having a third one, well, that seems totally normal and perfect for me. I always wanted three. I know if I hadn’t gotten pregnant with this baby, I would have felt as though she was missing for the rest of my life.

But five? That’s a lot. And I love my husband and I love his kids – but am thrown off by the assumption that I’m actually having my fifth child. Even though I recognize that it’s totally my husband’s fifth child. And I encourage my kids to think of my stepdaughters as their full siblings – we don’t have half relationships in my family – they are all sisters and brothers. I don’t make a distinction to them about it – they are all part of the same family and should be treated as such… so why do I stutter a little when people assume that I’m everyone’s mother?

I think part of it is that my stepdaughters are not my children. They have an active, involved mother, who has primary physical custody of them. I don’t mother them the way I do my own kids. I don’t know their doctor, their bedtime routine, the intricacies of their lives. I don’t attend parent/teacher conferences, I don’t know half their extended family, I don’t set up playdates. I’m not their go-to comfort person, I’m never going to be able to fix everything for them just by holding them, the way I can with my kids. They aren’t my kids. But every Saturday and Sunday, they are grouped in as my kids. I feed them meals, I assign chores, I take them fun places, I discipline, lay down the law, I kiss boo boos and comfort hurts. They are my children’s older sisters. So they’re not not my children either. It’s like they exist in this weird other realm, and there are people, I know, who don’t know that they aren’t my children. People that I’ve met thru the synagogue or at the library – people who only see me and my husband with them.

I never know, when people ask, how many children I have, what the appropriate response is. I’ve never really known – for eight years, I’ve been stumbling over it. But now that I’m pregnant – it comes up a lot. It seems dishonest to say that all of them are mine, although on some level, they all are. But explaining that two are mine, and two are my stepdaughters seems too lengthy and it’s more info than some people want. It depends on who’s asking, and who’s there when I answer. If Marc is there, then I usually let him answer that we’re having our fifth. And if I’m there with all the kids, then I smile and say it’s our fifth. If it’s just me and my two kids, I usually just say that it’s my third and let it go.

The quirks of a stepfamily. I wouldn’t change it, but it’s definitely not something I think I’ll ever get used to – trying to figure out exactly how to label everyone, how to be sensitive to my husband’s ex, who is their mother, aware of my role in their lives, because I do have a role, I’ve been a part of their lives for the past eight years, also acknowledging my own children’s primacy in my life – because Jessie is my oldest, but she’ll be squarely in the middle of the five of them. Sam is the only boy, with either two or four sisters, depending on how I feel like answering that day. It’s all so… complicated. And I don’t see any easy way simplify it. To say that they’re all mine isn’t right, and if I were my husband’s ex, I’d hate it. But it’s not fair to say that they aren’t mine either, this child will be both the youngest of three, and the youngest of five.

I suppose the best way to look at it is the way that my kid’s do (and even that is baffling, because I don’t know what Lilli and Sarah would draw if they were doing a family portrait. Do they draw in me? Even if they include Jess and Sam, I don’t know that they would draw in Mommy, Daddy and Melissa). But Jessica always draws all of her siblings, not just Sam. Because that’s how it is for her. She doesn’t have the trouble identifying it – she’s got two older sisters, a little brother and a baby sister on the way. And in the end, I guess that’s what counts – I might be confused and baffled by it – am I having my third or my fifth – but the kids aren’t confused – this is just their baby sister and they can’t wait.

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