Update: The new status of my family

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As a member of my tribe, I’m committed to keeping you on the front lines of any changes to my life.

I wasn’t intentionally keeping this from you.
I’ve been quiet about it because I wasn’t sure how it would evolve.
And I didn’t want to have to retract something.
Especially news of this magnitude.

So here you go:

In 2016, I wrote an end-of-year blog of my highlights and lowlights (Emotional. Not hair-related), which I’ll link to here.

My last highlight in that blog referenced a young stranger who I signed on to mentor.  Indefinitely.

She was 20-years old, a junior in college, trying to navigate the world without parents or a family home. Which is how she wound up on a 13-hour bus ride from North Carolina to New York City at the start of her winter break that year.

By the time Steph and I put her back on the bus in January, something inside of me had shifted. A hole that I didn’t know I had, suddenly felt filled.

We’d talked about having kids for years. I mean that’s what you do, right?
You meet a person whose kind of crazy you can live with, which I did in 2004.
You get engaged, which I did in 2007.
You get married, which I did in 09.

And then people start asking if you’re going to have kids.

We had the do you want to have kids conversation before getting engaged, and even though we were open to the concept, we found ourselves repeatedly on the fence after we got married.

Back then our practice was called Alternatives Adolescent Counseling Center -  one-stop shopping for teenagers and their families.

Which is to say, I’d been surrounded by teenagers my entire career, and I knew how hard it was to raise kids because I’d helped to raise hundreds (maybe a thousand) over the 15 years that I specialized in them.

It wasn’t the hard work that caused my breeding ambivalence.
It’s that my maternal needs were fulfilled through the work I did.

A couple times a year, Steph and I would ask each other if it was time to have kids, and the outcome of each discussion was to postpone because neither of us felt a burning need.

But I have to tell you: the social pressure to reproduce is real. So real that when I turned 42, we decided to try to get pregnant. Time was ticking, after all. Maybe we’ll never feel the need to have kids, but maybe we’re supposed to.

That was 2012.
I got pregnant quickly. It didn’t work out.
So, we did it again, this time with IVF. And it didn’t work out a second time.
And we didn’t have the money to do it again.

So, we healed. Sort of.  

We told ourselves that if we were meant to have kids, it would have happened. The Universe must have a different path intended for us.  

And then I got my television show, Famously Single.

This is what I’m meant to do with my life, I thought. I’m here to teach relationship skills.

And we built Relationship Skills Boot Camp – our 9-week course that we launch annually where we teach students everything they need to know to succeed in relationships.

This feels like a kid, right Steph? And she told me, Yes, it feels like we combined our forces and created something that is bigger than the two of us - which we guessed is what it’s like when you have a kid.

And then, three years later, this 20-year old fell into our arms.

When we got home from dropping her at the bus stop that year, we buried ourselves in our respective computers, placing grocery orders so she’d have food when she got back to college the next day. And because we didn’t discuss it, she wound up with doubles of some things, like peanut butter and water.

When she came back to New York for spring break, our second bedroom was officially her room, decorated in colors I would never have chosen and plastered with pictures of young people I’d never met.

This year is our third holiday season with our Fake Kid, which is how we refer to her.

She calls us her Foms (fake moms).
She lives with us.

Despite the enormity of the challenges she’s faced in her young life, she graduated from college this summer.

She did so well at her summer internship that she had a job offer before she graduated.

Here I’ll control the urge to drone on about all of her accomplishments, which I’m realizing parents do less to brag and more because it’s an expression of love. That said, there’s a bigger point to this post:

People hear about her, about our role in her life, and they have a universal need to mention how lucky she is to have us, and that’s starting to bug me.

I don’t want her appreciation. Or anyone else’s. She’s expressed hers enough, and now I just want us to be a family. Like, a normal family, where my fake kid feels so safe in her home that she takes her fake mom’s umbrella to work, leaving me, a New Yorker who is by necessity a pedestrian, left to walk to work in the rain, feeling equal parts annoyed at how thoughtless she was, and also warmed in the heart that she feels so secure that she no longer hesitates to take what is clearly mine and not hers, because I’m her fom.  

I don’t want to be applauded for doing what every other person on the planet does for their kids (if they’re able and decent). And I don’t want others to make her feel like she has to have an endless supply of gratitude for being loved and cared for the way every kid deserves to be.

Finally, I don’t want her thought of or referred to as an orphan. Which is not intended to minimize the loss that she’s endured and will continue to grieve indefinitely, rather, to underscore that there are two people in her life who have volunteered to step in, to be her tribe, and who will have her back. Forever. The way good parents are supposed to.  

And it occurred to me that I can only expect people to be normal about my abnormal family if I come out of the closet and make a formal declaration that I now have a kid. Her name is Danielle. Here are some pictures of us (approved by her).

Also, we’re not always as happy as we appear to be in the pictures:

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