There’s a rumor about me swirling in our small town.
It’s not the first time, of course. As you can imagine, when people realized my second husband is a man I’d known while married to my first, tongues wagged. I was ready for it then, and was comfortable that the people who mattered knew the truth and the rest would certainly come to know it in time.
This rumor is far more damaging.
Apparently, I am pregnant. With triplets. I’ll let that sink in for a moment. TRIPLETS.
At first I thought my winter layer of fluff that has hung around for the last several months, like the library books on the kitchen counter, was at the root of this nonsense. Then I blamed the shapeless tunics I’ve been wearing over my leggings. After studying myself intently in the mirror, I was coming to the conclusion that it might be the terrible combination of the fluff and forgiving cotton blends that put me in this awkward position.
I was wrong.
It was my father.
My father is a lovely kind man. He is in his early seventies, and more active than anyone I know. He bikes, jogs, and volunteers nearly compulsively all over town. He started piano lessons two years ago because he’s always wanted to learn how to play an instrument. He lives near us, and is a constant presence in our lives.
My father would never knowingly do anything to hurt me.
I’m sure he started the rumor though, because I saw him do it.
We were in the hardware store running errands together and met a neighbor of his. We made pleasant southern-style conversation, about the weather and the price of gas and grandchildren. That’s when it happened.
“These are some of mine,” said my dad, pointing out Lottie and Caden climbing on the riding mowers. “I have five, going on eight.” He nodded in my direction.
Five going on eight?
His neighbor had no idea what to make of that ridiculousness, and neither did I. Until I realized the going on eight part referred to my three stepchildren. The ones who’ve been a part of our family for years now (and thankfully were not present).
I quickly explained that I had six children in my family, three before my marriage to my husband, and three I happily gained at the altar when we married. The neighbor made the usual six-kid exclamations, and we parted ways.
I thought about what my father said for most of the rest of the day.
The truth is, at first it made me angry. I was tempted to talk to him about inclusion and love and how important it is to me that he accept my modern family, but I didn’t.
Instead, I thought about what else I’d seen from my father.
My dad is a present and active part of my stepchildren’s lives. My dad geocaches with Jack, and asks Sara about her plans for high school. Sunday dinners include everyone in our huge tribe; he regularly cooks for 15. My father loves Gabe. He golfs with him and jokes with him in the kitchen and asks him for advice. He has included him openly since the first time he met him. My dad is a committed and caring grandfather to my children, meeting Lottie for lunch weekly and hiring Simon as the first employee in his new business.
I know my father loves and accepts my full family. I felt the anger slip away.
I’m the first person to be divorced with children in our family in generations. My divorce surprised everyone, and me most of all. I had to learn about parenting after the first family from scratch. It was hard. I was coparenting beginner for a long time. When I finally got the hang of that, I became a stepmom beginner. Now, I live and breathe blended family dynamics and coparenting theory and I am still learning every day.
I saw my father as the beginner he is. He loves me and my family, and struggles with the language for our modern fairy tale. He worries about excluding the grandchildren who were here first, and making sure he shows them he respects both their dad and their stepdad, and spending enough time with the new children in our tribe. I get that. I’ve struggled with the same challenge.
My father isn’t the only beginner in our family. My mother and Gabe’s parents are also working to include all of us, with mostly good results and the occasional blunder. My sister’s children refer to both Uncle Gabe and Uncle Billy, and we talk often about how they got to this two-uncle place. We are learning.
All of us have wrestled, and sometimes still wrestle, with what to do and say in this modern tribe of ours. We have all had to start this journey as beginners.
Beginners make mistakes. They fall off bikes and forget to save important documents and suggest their daughter is pregnant with triplets. Mistakes don’t reflect love or intention. Mistakes are how we learn. Mistakes are proof we’re trying.
And so, standing in the hardware store, I didn’t focus on the ridiculousness of my father’s statement. I didn’t accuse him of not accepting all of my children. I looked at the love, and the willingness to include Gabe’s three in something as inconsequential as a chance conversation with a neighbor. And I was grateful.
And when I could authentically come from a grateful place, I told him so. And gently suggested a different way to introduce his eight grandchildren. And asked how many other people in this town might think I’m pregnant with triplets.