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Humming 'We Are Family'

Published August 20. 2011 09:02AM

When Dave and I were married almost two years ago, the priest asked if we were planning any special touches for the wedding.

I told him I only had two simple requests. At the end of the church ceremony as we were leaving the church we wanted to walk under an honor guard of kayak paddles held by members of our kayak club. And at the reception, we wanted all three generations of our family to dance to "We Are Family." I'll never forget the exhilaration I felt during that dance as I looked around at the happy faces on the dance floor.

I thought back to the symbolism of that dance with the blended families last week when I spent a week on the Outer Banks of North Carolina with Dave's family.

Like many families today, ours is not the purely traditional one with grandparents, parents and offspring. When second marriages are involved, there are stepparents, stepchildren and a family tree that suddenly grows much bigger late in life.

At our wedding, my granddaughter Emmy said to her mom, "Now I have a new grandpa. Did I also get any other new relatives?" As an only child who has always longed to be part of a big family, Emmy was pleased with all the new additions to our family.

When Dave and I made plans to take his family to the Outer Banks, I thought of all the similar trips I had taken there with my own family. For 21 consecutive years through graduations, marriages, and a constant expansion of "family," all of us stayed under one roof at a beach house. And when we left, our mental suitcases were overflowing with warm memories of our extended family vacation.

We all still pronounce those vacations as some of the happiest times of our lives.

But as I shopped for food and supplies and packed our suitcases, I suddenly had slight anxieties of what the trip would hold. Every family has its own routine and traditions. Would I fit in easily with Dave's grown children, their wives and their kids? They call families like ours "blended families." But there are different ways of blending. Some are a nice mix. Others are not.

"Don't worry about a thing," said my husband. "My kids are terrific."

He was more than right. There wasn't one awkward moment. The three "kids" are warm, welcoming and affectionate like their father. And their three wives, although each different from the other, function as one close and caring family unit.

After just a day or two of being with this fun-filled bunch, I found myself humming, "We Are Family." And when I said grace, I said a sincere prayer of thanks that I married into such a great family.

It's not always like that. With some older marriages, all the family members don't warmly accept a new spouse. I don't think a month goes by that I don't hear horror stories about resentments and quarrels that occur in blended family situations.

Long ago, even before we called them "blended families," I was part of one. My parents divorced when I was 10 and both remarried when I was 14. That's a tough age. There are always times when teenagers can try one's soul. I'm sure my stepparents, both of whom were never married before, must have had trepidations about parenting a loud-mouthed teenager.

But it didn't take me long to learn I was truly blessed to have the kind of stepparents I did. My stepmother, Annie, was tons of fun and functioned like an older, wiser girlfriend for me. My stepdad Ziggy was the one who taught me to drive and went to bat for me when he thought my mother was too strict with me.

I grew especially close to both. No, they couldn't take the place of my mother or my father, but I came to realize they sure were a nice addition to my life.

During our Outer Banks vacation this week, we women sat around one night comparing stories about blended families. I think we all agreed these situations can work beautifully - if we all set aside pre-conceived notions and give each other a chance.

I know how good I felt with the warm welcome I got from my husband's family. As we sat around talking each night, the word "family" resonated inside me. While we don't have a long history together, we certainly have a great beginning.

One daughter-in-law asked me if I was going to write about the Outer Banks. I told her, no. I usually write about relationships, not places.

The more I thought about it, the more I thought I should write about how nicely "blended families" could jell together.

When the family was leaving, they wrote their week's experiences in the visitor's book that came with our rented cottage. They mentioned how nice it is to vacation as an extended family under one roof.

One family, one roof, and one really great week of memories. No wonder I'm still smiling.

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