We spent the day at the home of my father and his girlfriend. It was a perfectly nice day, with well-prepared food and no horror stories.
It was also impersonal, almost as thought we’d had dinner at a small, family-style restaurant, instead of spending the day with people who might become my (gulp, gasp) stepfamily. They were polite enough, but distant. They asked no questions, not even, “How are you?” and the day passed with two distinct groups: my father, Willem, the kids and myself in the living room, and his girlfriend, her parents and her daughter in the kitchen. All open-concept, so it wasn’t a case of closed doors and awkward silences… just separate. Removed.
I don’t know the daughter, who is 21 and not unduly friendly. She eyes us with a vague distrust, as though one of us is going to lie down in her mother’s lap and blink longingly while saying, “Mama?” in a childlike voice. She’s a college student and planning her wedding, so presumably she can spread sociability and cheer when she chooses to, and perhaps with time she’ll warm to us. I can wait; I have a few (dozen) more pressing concerns in my own life at the moment.
So, all in all, nice enough but… odd.
In other family news, we spoke to my mother and sisters on the phone this morning; “we” being both myself and Willem. After having a 10-minute conversation, Willem had effectively spent more time on the phone with my family today than he has with his brother… ever. They were planning to spend the morning volunteering at a soup kitchen and the afternoon sharing Thanksgiving dinner with their neighbor, and they sounded about as normal and healthy as any family can possibly be.
We did not hear from Willem’s adoptive mother, until a late-afternoon phone message that was not answered when we returned the call ten minutes later (we walked in the door just after she called). We did hear from his birth mother, via email. I don’t know what that all means. Maybe nothing. But the difference feels noteworthy.
Isn’t family astounding in its sheer complexity? But I’m grateful for all of the confusion, the peccadilloes, the work that family is, because they matter, and I matter to them. I hope never to take that for granted.