A Muddy Beginning to Blending a Family

By on March 4, 2018

By Lesley Klenk–

When we turned 50, my husband and I sold our home where we raised our children. We designed the house when we were newlyweds believing that six bedrooms, four bathrooms, two staircases, formal living and dining rooms, and a bonus room would fit us forever. Fourteen years later, the children were grown and gone. Paul and I lived in three rooms and kept the rest of the house closed to save on the heating bill. 

Sometimes we ask the kids if they remember the early days of living in the house. They respond puzzled, ‘Were there blueberry bushes?’ ‘Did we have the tree swing?’ ‘What number cat were we on?’ 

Paul and I, however, recall the battles we faced in the early years of blending our families. The kids were six, eight, and ten when we married. We naively thought that building our dream house would mean that all of our dreams would come true. 

On moving day all those years ago, Paul backed the huge, borrowed truck down the driveway and over the newly-planted lawn.

Junk from two previous lives was pushed into the garage. I carried an old church pew from Oklahoma and placed it under the stairs. Paul tiptoed to the back carrying an iron baby crib from Minnesota. The pile of boxes almost filled the space. When Paul heaved a decades-old mattress onto his head, I lost it. 

“No, not going to happen. Not in my house,” I shouted. 

“It is a perfectly good mattress. Lots of people have slept on it and it is very comfortable,” Paul reasoned. 

“That’s the point! I want a new mattress that no one has slept on,” I shrieked.

We heard screams out the back door. 

“Help, Mom!”

“Help, Dad!”

Deep lakes of mud had formed in the backyard following the relentless winter rains of the Pacific Northwest. Connor and Dane were sinking in the sludge that pulled on them like quicksand. SarahKate, sat on the deck steps twirling her hair, her chin in her palm, watching the boys fight to stay upright.

Dane tried to pull himself up and then, horrifyingly, fell over in half like a puppet, his face a Halloween mask of muck. When Connor snorted with laughter, he fell backwards making an outline of a mud angel.  

Paul and I went back into the garage and pushed away the crowded pile of boxes, oblivious to the sound of breaking glass and heavy thuds as they fell to the floor. Deep in a corner, snow sleds leaned against the wall. We grabbed them and slid them to the boys. They clambered into the sleds in their socks. (We didn’t see the boots again until May.)

“SarahKate, why didn’t you come get us?” I asked. 

“You guys were yelling so loud I didn’t want to deal with the mattress or the boys. I’m going in.” The door slammed behind her. 

We shoved everything into the garage and didn’t open the door for months. Instead we set up the badminton net and built a tree house. We bought couches large enough for the five of us to watch TV together. We brought home a new dog that belonged to all of us. With every memory we made as a family, it was easier to go into the garage and open one box at a time. Shouts for toilet paper, piles of steaming, sweaty shoes, and quiet talks on the porch swing did more than blend us together—they brought us together.

Now, at 50, Paul’s hair is more grey than brown, and like everyone says, it makes him look distinguished. I, however, have that turkey wobble under my chin that appeared one day to my great astonishment and chagrin.

We found a smaller house on Puget Sound. We walk the beach daily and talk about traveling, retirement and our aging parents. We also talk about the kids. We worry about them. Before, it was mud that threatened to engulf them, now it is life choices and the stakes are high. 

A new family bought our old house and invited us to visit. Hesitantly, we went. We walked through the yard pointing out the perennial beds, the fruit trees, the pond, the grape arbor, and the vegetable beds. 

“Oh, you’ll have to watch out for this low part of the yard during the spring.” I swallowed the lump in my throat. “It can get really muddy.”

Life is not perfect, and, at 50, we know it. Grace, however, has arrived in the form of our first grandchild who belongs to all of us. There is no blending of families on our side with his arrival—he is fully woven into the fabric of who we are, the five of us, one family together. 

Lesley Klenk lives in Olympia, Washington, on Eld Inlet, a salt water bay. She has a government job in the field of education and writes freelance articles for academic journals, local newspapers and community social media platforms. You can read her work at ThurstonTalk and Travels with Paul, a blog on loving your empty nest. 

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A Muddy Beginning to Blending a Family