Friday, February 18, 2011


There are some sounds in this life that are unmistakeable - a car wreck, the cry of a newborn, the rhythmic pulse of waves against the sand - and, of course, the sound of a 30-ounce, 31-inch aluminum baseball bat tearing into an Ikea floor lamp.

Last Monday, my girlfriend and I celebrated the 3rd anniversary of combining households and moving the entire circus under one tent. At this point, the inventory sheet lists the following:
-One 11-year-old girl, left-handed model, some issues with linear-thinking gear.
-Two standard-issue 9th-grade boys, ages 14 and 15, complete with accessories including the optional "floor garbage" pack and volume boost.
-One 18-year-old boy with non-detachable green hoodie and partially-rooted facial hair kit.
-One 20-year-old, motivation plug-in defective and too expensive to repair.
-Four (4) cats, additional digestive machinery, XXX-girth models. Sleep mode switch.
-One Guinea Pig.

Additional inventory, temporary:
-One temporarily homeless 18-year-old boy, defective hygiene programming
-Two additional homeless, mid-30s, on 6-month loan (originally 2-week loan but factory refused return delivery)

I'll get back to that Ikea lamp in a minute.

Much has been written about the Blended Family, and the inherent problems therein. After three years of practice, I feel qualified to offer some of the wisdom I've accrued over time. And, in the interest of full disclosure, it's probably worth noting that I just want to have someone listen, because my kids sure the hell don't.

On parenting:
- Do not try to parent someone else's children. This does not work. Barring the occasional incident when immediate intervention is mandated, such as having to wrest a knife out of one of your children's hands to avoid wallet-crippling emergency room bills (and criminal charges if another child is at the receiving end), STAY OUT. The worst mistake a blended family dad can make is to act like a dad. Your role is that of an ineffective high-school guidance counselor. Get used to it.
-Acquire a good set of headphones and a prescription for an anxiolytic medication such as Xanax or Valium. Use both every night.
-Practice this phrase - "let's check when your mom gets home." Alternately, "I'm just your biological dad. How am I supposed to know?"

On finances:
-Do NOT feed them. Food is expensive and they will just want more. As Sandi often says when the kids ask what's for dinner, "We just fed you yesterday."
-The best way to guarantee that your children will hate a certain food item is to buy a LOT of it, after it's requested. Somewhere in the back of the freezer is a military-grade package of generic Hot Pockets that had been DEMANDED. Like a bad relationship, interest was lost after the initial orgiastic culinary spree.
-Never leave money laying around where someone can see it. "I thought it was for me" is a phrase that children are born with.

On maintaining an intimate relationship with your partner when there are always 8 other people in the house:

The bottom line: Relax. Your role is that of a cowering villager during a wartime invasion by enemy forces. Your goal is to keep your head down, avoid injury, and try to cling to enough food to make it through. Abandon hope of all else. Consider it a bonus.

Oh! About the lamp: Three days into our time under the same roof, I heard a loud crashing noise in the basement. At that point, as a complete noob in the blended-family thing, I raced to see what was going on. As a seasoned pro, I don't respond to anything now unless I can smell smoke, or see actual spatters of blood, but hindsight is 20/20. I entered the basement to see the aftermath - lampshade cracked in a dozen places, light bulb shards scattered, a sixth-grader menacingly holding a bat.

Another blend-virgin mistake: I asked what had happened. Ha! I would later learn to resort to subterfuge, spying, bribery and other investigative techniques (or, more likely, just not giving a damn), but I wanted an explanation. "I didn't know it would happen" was all I got. I now realize that that was the truth - kids go through life imposing their violent energies on the universe without any thought of consequence. Who knew?

I was in the garage the other day, and I spied the lampshade, piled up with three years' worth of other home wreckage and the detritus of daily destruction. The experienced blended dad now, I smiled at the cracks in the shade. As nice as I used to think that clean, tidy, intact things were, now I know the truth. The cracks are where the most light shines through.

Live and learn.

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