I'm One of Eight Siblings. No wait. I mean 18(!) Siblings.
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Sometimes I Forget How Big My Family Is
Hey there. A few years ago, when I was at a conference, a woman approached me for a chat, and said she knew my brother. She started describing how she knew him and for the life of me I couldn’t figure out who she meant. I have four brothers but nothing she was saying related to any of them. I told her she must have me confused with someone else, and then she said, “Oh I remember — he’s not your brother, he’s your stepbrother.” And I instantly replied, “I don’t have a stepbrother.” And then I paused for the briefest second and said, “Actually… I do. I have ten. I have ten step-siblings. Holy cow I forgot.”
Something similar happened last week via Instagram DM. A woman sent me a message saying: Try living near Susie Johnson [name changed]. She just shut down our entire neighborhood… school, church, etc., for refusing to get the vaccine, and she will not wear a mask. The whole family had symptoms and went about their lives anyway. Talk about a danger to community. They gave the virus to at least 10 people who I know of. I have no doubt she gave it to a lot more.
And I replied back: That’s awful. Who is Susie Johnson? I figured there was a news story that I missed and she would send me a link.
She wrote back: It’s your stepsister!
Once again my brain went: What stepsister? I don’t have a stepsister.
And then my brain remembered that I do indeed have many stepsisters, and I thought: Oh. Is that her married name?
I realize these little stories are not complimentary to me. How in the world does someone forget they have 10 step-siblings, or not know their names? But maybe it’s not as bizarre as it sounds.
My mother, Donna, remarried a couple of years after my father died. It’s a meet-cute that should definitely be the basis for a Hallmark movie. She was living in St. George (the town where I grew up, located in the Southwest corner of Utah), and decided to enroll in some summer art classes at Utah State University, which is in a town called Logan, in the very north of Utah, about 8 hours away from St. George.
While she was there, she ran into Roger, her high school sweetheart. They both grew up in Los Angeles — they even have prom pictures together! — but had gone different ways and ended raising their families in different parts of Utah. It turns out, Roger’s wife had died the year before.
Donna and Roger were in their early 50s when they met again. They ended up dating again and remarrying. Here they are all dressed up for an event:
My mom has 8 kids (plus their spouses, grandkids, etc.). Roger has 10 kids (plus their spouses, grandkids, etc.). It’s A LOT of people. For at least a brief moment at the beginning of their new marriage, I think Donna & Roger thought there would be a bit of a Brady Bunch situation — two big families blending happily together. But that didn’t happen. It’s not that we blended unhappily, we just didn’t blend at all.
Most of us were already grown. I was 25 when she remarried, and had just had my second baby. And then I moved across the country to New York not long after their wedding (Ben Blair started a PhD program at Columbia). I already had two big families — I’m one of eight siblings, Ben Blair is also one of eight siblings — and I guess the idea of adding an additional big family to my life wasn’t something I needed.
When Donna & Roger come to visit, or we go to their house, I always ask Roger for updates on his kids. But outside of those chats, I admit, I don’t give a lot of thought to my step-siblings. If I’m talking on the phone with my mom, I wouldn’t think to ask about them. They aren’t really a part of my life in any meaningful way. I haven’t met some of their spouses or significant others. I don’t know their kids names. I’m not connected to them on social media. I don’t know their phone numbers or addresses. I don’t know what they do for work. We don’t exchange Christmas cards. It would never occur to me to ask them a favor or reach out to them about anything.
I realize that officially they are in fact my step-siblings, but I don’t think of them as being related to me. And I literally can’t imagine having a conversation where someone is telling me about what they do for a living and I think: Oh! I have a stepsister/stepbrother who does that! My step-siblings just don’t enter my mind in that way at all.
I also don’t think about Roger as a stepfather. To be clear: I love Roger. I’m so glad he’s in my life. He’s a terrific grandfather to my kids and I enjoy being around him. But I was already an adult when he joined the family; I was already raised. The role of father-figure in my life had been filled. When I refer to Roger, I don’t think I’ve ever called him my stepfather. I refer to him as Roger, or my mom’s husband, or, when I’m talking to my kids, I refer to him as Grandpa. I think of him as an important, loved, respected, included part of our family — a supportive friend, a wise counselor, an able handyman, always up for an adventure — but I don’t think of him as my father or stepfather.
My assumption is that the two big families didn’t really blend because most of the siblings were adults when the marriage happened. We were too far into our own lives. But there are other factors too. We learned quite quickly our family cultures are very different. And as much as I love Roger, for a variety of reasons, I’m not a big fan of his kids. So when I received the message about Susie Johnson being an anti-vaxxer, I was not particularly surprised.
Do you have experience with this sort of thing? Do you have step-siblings that you know well? Or don’t know well at all? How has your family handled blending two different groups? If your parent remarried while you were an adult, do you think you would bond with your step-siblings? Or would you be likely to keep separate lives?
Lately on Design Mom
Design Mom Office Hours are still a bright spot in my day. Yesterday, my calls included a conversation about how parenting relationships change as your kids become adults, options for schools/education for teenagers who are moving to France, and I got to see a lovely tour of new home renovation that included loads of awesome accessibility features (like an oven with a door the opens sideways so you can access it in a wheelchair — so cool!). Need some design advice? Traveling to France soon? Want to talk parenting? You can sign up for a meeting at my Calendly link.
Six Secrets to the Perfect Pie Crust. Such a useful post for the holidays!
A gorgeous home tour featuring Lilly Neubauer, formerly of Dallas, Texas, she has recently moved her family to Germany.
Here Are A Few Things I’ve Wanted to Share With You
-My oldest son, Ralph (he’s the one studying film at Berkeley), just read Pride & Prejudice for the first time. He really enjoyed it and wants to watch the movie adaptations now. Once he’s seen them, I’ll recommend this essay about the iconic shot of Darcy’s hand in Joe Wright’s adaptation. Do you have a preference between the BBC version with Colin Firth, and the 2005 version with Keira Knightly? I’ve seen them both a dozen times, and I definitely have a favorite.
-USA Today is researching what happens to police officers who report on the misconduct of other police officers. The research is revealing that whistleblowers are routinely punished and retaliated against — dead rats, death threats, destroyed careers, etc.. If the article is is paywalled for you, you can read a thread about it on Twitter for free:
-I’m interested in this opinion piece in the Washington Post: America cannot give evangelicals what they want. “So what, then, do these voters want? Many essentially see politics as a great battle between White, Christian America and the multiracial, religiously diverse reality of 21st century America. They want someone to help them win that existential fight. Government is there not to produce legislative fixes to real-world problems but to engage their enemies on behalf of White Christianity.”
(Though Mormons aren’t considered evangelicals, I think this applies to many of us as well.)
-A short film (17 mins) on the deeply coded nature of lots of antisemitism, particularly on the internet but going back further than that. I learned a ton.
-Had an interesting conversation about couples and porn use. Some couples agree to porn use, others agree they won’t use porn. In cis-het couples where they agree not to use porn, but the husband uses porn anyway and lies about it, the wife can experience real betrayal that may require some therapy to work through. After the conversation this podcast was recommended — it’s about Betrayal Trauma Recovery and showcases the psychological abuse a victim experiences when her husband lies, gaslights, and manipulates her in order to hide sexual behaviors (i.e. porn use) he knows are outside her boundaries. Do you have thoughts on this?
-Dang the NRA is evil. NPR obtained hours of recordings of the NRA’s private meetings after the Columbine shooting in 1999. In addition to panicked discussions over how to deny culpability, NRA leaders are heard deriding their members as "hillbillies" and "fruitcakes.”
From what I can see this holds true for many leaders on the right; they have nothing of disdain for their supporters. Trump is a biggest example of this.
-Can’t stop thinking about this thread on crime — who decided what crime is, and which crimes are punished vs. ignored. I wish it was an article because I know some of you don’t use Twitter. But it’s very worth reading if you have a moment. Tons of links and resources and data. I’ll share a few highlights here:
Alec Karakatsanis @equalityAlecA few thoughts about "crime." The concept of “crime” is created and manipulated by people who have power. Throughout U.S. history, powerful people have defined “crime” in ways that benefit wealthy people and white people. (1)
Alec Karakatsanis @equalityAlecIf all the crimes committed by police and jail/prison guards was counted, it would completely change the police crime stats that these "experts" regurgitate in the media to support police propaganda. (4)
Alec Karakatsanis @equalityAlecmany journalists who are ranting about a "shoplifting surge" in Wallgreen's stores have been silent during the decades long wage-theft epidemic, which involves theft by rich people of about *10x more than all U.S. shoplifting combined* from people struggling to survive.
-Cancel Mel Gibson. Why is Hollywood still hiring this raging anti-Semite?
-This made me happy:
Feel free to share your thoughts in response to anything above. I hope you have a lovely weekend.