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At the Top of My Lungs: We Are Family

I'd always had an easy and cordial relationship with Tristan's mom, Lin. But when I got sick, this woman stepped up in the most extraordinary way.
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Family isn't about whose blood you have. It's about who you care about. -- Trey Parker and Matt Stone, South Park

I look around me at my suburban, family life and think of Talking Heads singing, "You may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?"

As a little girl I didn't care for baby dolls. I preferred the "dresser dolls" given to me by my Aunt Naomi, miniature versions of grown-up women in historical or cultural costumes. Growing into adulthood, I never wanted to be anyone's mother. I wanted a different kind of adventure. So I didn't have children on purpose. "Child-free by choice," as a friend used to say. I love my nieces and nephews and all of the kids in my life, but no one would ever describe me as maternal. Auntie Mame, maybe. So I surprised everyone, including myself, when last summer I married a man with two children. Two kids by two different moms, no less, so our life is complicated. But whose isn't?

I've been delighted to discover how much I enjoy my stepkids. My 15-year-old stepson, Tristan, is all boy in a 5-foot, 11-inch body, scattering sports gear around the house, leaving lights on and doors open and eating what appears to be his own body weight in cereal, fruit and animal flesh each day. He is also smart and kind and funny, and he loves the cat as much as I do. Tristan is at ease with himself in a way I couldn't have imagined at that age, and he effortlessly makes others feel comfortable around him.

Tristan's mom lives not far from us and we share custody 50/50. He is with us every other week. My 5-year-old stepdaughter, Eloise, lives with her mom in Chicago, so we don't see Eloise nearly as much as we would like. But she was here last week, and it was great fun to have a little girl in the house, an excuse for me to play dress-up and get out the glitter glue.

Father's Day was bittersweet. Harlan spent the day on a plane returning Eloise to Chicago. We had a wonderful week with both kids, going to Tristan's basketball games, taking Eloise to the park and on play dates and even for a pony ride. We watched movies all cuddled up on the couch, played with the cat and ate ice cream out of chocolate cups -- then we ate the cups! But saying goodbye is difficult. Eloise's visits with us are too brief and not frequent enough. She is always sad to leave and it's hard on all of us, who want her here so much more.

I'd always had an easy and cordial relationship with Tristan's mom, Lin. But when I got sick, this woman stepped up in the most extraordinary way. Lin is an M.D./Ph.D., working in oncology research, and she was one of the first people we called when we got the cancer diagnosis. From the first day, Lin has been our quarterback, helping us decipher this new vocabulary and make sense of the overwhelming variety of tests, reports and opinions. She alerts us to new treatments and advises as to what tests we should proactively ask for. She even went with us to interview different oncologists early on, and helped us to make the decision about where to go for my treatment.

It means a great deal to me that Tristan can see this collaboration and experience what caring, support and grace look like in a blended family.

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