“Well . . .”
“Well,” followed by a long pause is a much more frequent performer in my verbal repertoire now than before I met and married a man with five children. I think it may have first come on stage in response to T-Man, age 12, plopping down beside me on the couch one morning and relating that something strange was happening to his bed sheets. Though he knew he wasn’t wetting the bed, lately there had been small damp areas on his boxers and his sheets when he woke up in the mornings. He thought perhaps something might be leaking through onto his bed from the ceiling. “Well . . .,” I replied.
. . .
“Well,” followed by a long pause came up again one summer day when Little One started talking about relatives. She had just returned from spending a week at her aunt’s for “Camp Melssa” – a summer tradition for the little girl cousins to craft and raft with Aunt Melissa and Uncle Mike. Little One wanted to ask about how she is connected to my family but she couldn’t think of the right terms or remember some of the names. Our conversation stumbled around for a while, me offering up people I thought she might be asking about and she making the exasperated noises of one who knows what they want to say but can’t get the meaning across. Finally, I recognized that she was asking about my sister’s children, Matthew, Molly and Courtney. I went on to name the children of my husband’s sisters, and told her they were all my nieces and nephews.
I had been sewing and she sorting through the button tin while we worked out this minor bit of genealogy. It got quiet and we both turned our attention back to our tasks.
Then she said, “And I’m your daughter . . . well, half-daughter.”
“Step-daughter,” I replied quickly, hoping it wasn’t abruptly.
“Oh, yeah, yeah. And we’re blood-related,” she offered, with the sound of a question lightly coloring her voice.
“Well . . . no.”
The “no” sounded so loud to me that I wished that I had just left the “Well . . .” hanging in the air. How uncomfortable, to have to say no. To admit, again, that, no, we aren’t kin. I’m not her mother, not anyone’s mother. Blood-related is a powerful thing. In that moment it seemed such a comforting thing. I wanted to let her trust it, to find security and explain our connection through it. I wanted to let her be a real daughter. It wasn’t a mournful longing and I didn’t worry about my own heart aching. Instead, I was more afraid that by contradicting her I’d further disrupt the order of her world. But I said, again, “No.” And then I sought to reassure her that I loved her just the same as if we were “blood-related”, as much as if she were my real daughter. And I want to believe it, even though I can’t really know.
In truth, she didn’t seem concerned about whether I loved her. Rather, she was still puzzling out the mechanics of things. Me, I was getting a bit sappy and starting to feel that this could be a Really Big Moment. Little One was into classifying. Her Mad Science brain was clicking away, sorting out how all the parts of this family fit together. And so she said, quite matter of factly, “But you and dad are married, so how does that work? I’m confused.”
All I could offer in reply? “Well . . . it is confusing.”