“I can’t find my shirt,” Lottie yells from upstairs. “Don’t leave me!”
“I have the books!” shouts Amy as she rushes out the door to join most of the others, already strapped in the car and ready to roll.
It’s our family-versary and excitement is high.
Our family-versary is simply the anniversary of the day Gabe and I got married. But, because it wasn’t just Gabe and me striking out on this adventure that day, every year all eight of us celebrate the day we became a blended family.
Gabe happened upon the family-versary idea just after we got engaged. I knew something was up when he returned from a client meeting grinning.
“You’ll never guess what this guy does in his blended family,” he said.
I was all ears. We were eager to learn about blended family life, and resources and examples were hard to come by.
He continued. “Every year, on their wedding anniversary, my client takes his whole family out to do something special. They call it their family-versary. His kids are in their 20’s, and still join him and his wife for a family-versary celebration.”
Without another thought, we added it to the list of traditions we hoped to build in our blended family.
And build it we have. We realized recently that the kids don’t know that family-versary isn’t actually a thing outside our house. They approach it as they do any other holiday with expected pomp and circumstance. Halloween has pumpkins, Easter has baskets, family-versary has waffles. I’m not even sure they know Gabe and I celebrate our anniversary without them (and we definitely do).
Family-versary is one of our favorite traditions and we celebrate in big and small ways.
The party usually starts with a big, kid-approved event for the eight of us. Once, it was a fancy brunch at the venue where we married. We’ve celebrated at the swanky bowling alley where we hosted our rehearsal dinner (yes, you read that right: when your bridal party is six children your rehearsal dinner is at a bowling alley with neon lights and unlimited chicken strips). We’ve explored trampoline gyms and scavenger hunt games. This year, we took the whole bunch to a grown-up arcade, loaded their cards with far too much money and set them loose.
The main event is always fully focused on the kids and designed for fun. Think birthday party. Really. Sometimes we’ve even booked the birthday party package at the venue because it’s cheaper than paying for each kid. The idea is that the kids are excited and happy to spend the time together and that the event feels like a special celebration tailor-made for them.
We make heart-shaped waffles for breakfast using the same waffle iron our caterer used at our wedding brunch buffet. We get out all the wedding albums (somehow we have three of them) and the kids look through them in the car on our way to whatever fun event we have planned.
We drink sparkling cider from fancy glasses. We watch our wedding video and use our leftover wedding napkins (how do we still have leftover wedding napkins?). Much to the children’s horror, Gabe and I wear our Bride and Groom t-shirts. This year, Lottie found her much too small Flower Girl shirt and squeezed into it one last time. We hang the “It’s Time to Party” sign Jack carried down the aisle on our front porch.
Mind you, this is pomp and circumstance family-style. We don’t worry too much about planning or whether or not we check off all the things we did last year. Given our varied schedules, we typically celebrate our family-versary on the weekend closest to our anniversary. The details don’t matter, our focus is on spending time all together celebrating each other.
We talk about the day we became one family. What do the children remember best? What have they forgotten? We reminisce about the reception Kool-Aid bar and the wedding cake flavors. The kids talk about how much Simon has grown and how little all the cousins look. Those conversations often lead to deeper discussions. We talk about how we were feeling way back then. Who was nervous? Who was happy? What did they think being a family of eight would be like? What do they know now that they didn’t then?
Much in the way birthdays help us recognize the growth in a child, our family-versary helps us recognize our progress as a family. We celebrate all the way we’ve come together, both in the past year and since our start. The ritual helps us acknowledge the work each of the eight of us has done to be a part of this blended tribe. It reminds us that we are in this together, as one strong team. It reinforces the idea that relationships, like children, grow over time. Celebrating our story together, year after year, creates memories that last long after the arcade prizes are forgotten.