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Counting the Dog Years


by Linda Otis

(See picture: first row, second from the right)



My husband Mike and I were having breakfast at a restaurant with a couple we had just met.  We had been introduced because of a project we were working on through our church.  We began chatting back and forth asking the usual “getting to know you questions.”


“So, how many children do you have?”  They asked. I froze; watching their faces as they eagerly awaited a reply.  I searched my mind for a logical answer that would prompt the conversation to move on. This question seems to lead to detailed explanations that I don’t always feel comfortable giving.


I paused to take a deep breath. “Eight”, I stated reluctantly, bracing myself for the typical surprised reaction we usually receive.


“Well done!  Well done!” was their excited reply.  “Are there any twins in the mix?”


I was stopped in my tracks.  I knew I could go no further with the fairy tale fantasy of the “normal” family that I liked to pretend we had.   “We are a blended family.” I reluctantly admitted.  “Although we do not have any twins, we have two boys that are only two months apart.”


Now their curiosity was triggered with not only the eight children, but blended families as well. “How many years have you been married?”


“Eight years” I answered.


“Eight years! Why, you two are just newlyweds.”  They beamed.


I smiled politely, grimacing inside at the remark.  Instead of feeling like a newlywed, I felt more like we had just run a marathon.


After telling this story to another step mother, she replied jokingly, “eight years in a blended family feels more like eight dog years.”  I made a quick calculation in my head.  Seven times eight equals fifty-six.  The past eight years of our marriage did feel more like we had lived through fifty-six years.


We trudged wearily through those first few years of our marriage.  Our children jammed packed them full of challenges and stress familiar only to those who struggle in a blended family. If I counted through all the major stresses we faced in one year alone, they would overwhelm me.


Yet the dog years weren’t thrown away like wasted time.  They added up to a great learning experience about love.  Mike was a package deal and when I made the choice to love and marry him, I made the choice to love his children too.  So sometimes that meant loving my stepchildren even when I didn’t feel like it, they didn’t want it and we all felt rejected.  For better or worse, right?


Because of this choice to love Mike’s children, my heart was ready when my stepdaughter announced that she would be moving back home.  I knew we would be okay. 


Through Lynelle’s high school years in our home, our relationship had become strained, uncomfortable and distant.  Right after high school Lynelle moved into an apartment.  During the two years that she lived away, we were able to move beyond our troubled past and become friends.  It became easy for me to have her around and I looked forward to her visits.  Any apprehension I felt about the move, and the changes it could bring to our relationship quickly faded as I remembered other blended challenges our family encountered and eventually worked through.


The time that Lynelle was back home was delightful not only for her dad but for me. Because of the progress we have made in blending our family it looks like the dog years have been replaced by years that feel more “normal.”  Now we have to figure out what “normal” is. 

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