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Trash to Treasure
by Tammy McConnell
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Trash to Treasure
The Metamorphosis of a Step-Family

I am six. Standing in the doorway of an old farmhouse behind my mother, introductions commence. This is my “new” family. There are seven of them! The youngest boy is almost a year older than me. My two younger brothers appear to be as horrified as I am. What do they want from us? Whatever it is, can we get this over with and go home?

Thirty-two years later, the memory is still vivid. I can see the wood grain paneling of the kitchen walls, enormous rooms with paisley wallpaper and modern décor (for the 70’s). There’s not even a girl my age! What is my mother thinking? How could she just change gears on us like that? How am I ever going to fit in here? Even then I knew this was not normal.

In the 70’s the concept of step-families was still pretty new. Even today, ten (later eleven) children in one household is unheard of. My six-year old brain was swimming in a sea of confusion. New school, new house, new family … okay, where should I start?

I loved the country. I could go outside and pretend it wasn’t 40 degrees on a bright spring day. The little creek next to our house would run out of sight, cutting a path through the hard, crusted snow that had accumulated over the past several (very long) months to some point beyond the established boundaries set by my mother. How come I have to live here? Am I ever going to have any say in these matters? Why didn’t she ask me first? I don’t like it here. My new siblings do not want me here, my step-father doesn’t care about me and where is my dad? I haven’t seen him in months! How was I to know that that nagging, empty place inside was begging for fulfillment? I hadn’t been alive long enough to understand that God wanted “in”. In fact, I didn’t even know God existed. My mother seemed so preoccupied with her new husband and new family…I was completely and utterly alone!

Those days, weeks, months and years were very hard for me. By the time I became an adult, the word “dysfunctional” was familiar, comfortable, and well-worn…like a security blanket or a favorite pair of shoes. It could be used interchangeably with my name. Look up the word dysfunctional in the dictionary; there you will see my picture.

Everyone’s life is a gradual progression, a journey to normalcy, whatever that may be. It’s an individual thing. The focus of my most carefully guarded thought processes shifted recently. I dared entertain the idea that the world doesn’t revolve around me!

As it turns out, I love to work on my computer. Guess it’s a manifestation of solitude, the longing to be with others, by myself. I found my niche … slideshows. I can live vicariously through the memories and documentation of events of others’ lives. I built a website offering my services to the whole world. My first customer? … mom. An innocent attempt to be supportive of my new business venture may have been the kindest act of parenting my mother has ever performed, albeit unknowingly.

Pouring over old photographs of my childhood AD (after divorce) and that of my step-siblings BAD (before and after death of their mom), I gained a new perspective into the “Bridge” our parents had created. With benefit of some key information trickling in from my mom, I began to feel a strange sensation, almost foreign … could it be? Compassion. At some point during the composition of this “masterpiece”, the floodgates not only opened, but began to disintegrate. I no longer felt resentment or frustration when recounting the events of my past experience. Like that hard-crusted snow-pack melting away on a warm spring day, my bitterness dissipated. The well-guarded intimate details of my step-father’s life began to come into full view. No one ever told me that when his wife passed away, he struggled to keep his family together while fending off social services. How he managed to run a farm, raise 7 children (the youngest being only 3 months old) and keep his sanity is beyond me. I started to give him credits for effort and perseverance and the seemingly insurmountable task of staying intact. With my new insight, I began to explore the possibilities that maybe they (my step-siblings) too had hidden wounds that needed healing, and that I held the key to their recovery. With great anticipation and excitement, I dove into this project with my newly discovered clarity of purpose.

I wish I could have been there in each of their homes as they viewed their Christmas gifts (from the folks) on their DVD players in Texas, Wisconsin, Kansas, New Jersey, New York and Missouri. As they saw their lives virtually glide across the TV screen set to the tune of “Love Can Build A Bridge”, I’d have loved to hand them a tissue and say, “It’s all okay now. See? You are loved, they do care.”

Without all of the “tough times” of growing up in a huge, distant, very loose-knit step-family, my heart may never have discovered the blessings God intended for it. Every one of the kids in our family made a phone call or penned a message to “the folks” expressing gratitude for the obviously heart-felt Christmas gift they received this year.

Whether it broke down barriers or planted a seed for thought … its mission was accomplished; not only for each of us, but for “the folks” too. “I love you” still doesn’t flow freely at family gatherings, but it slowly, steadily is making its way into telephone conversations and emails between siblings that previously didn’t stay in touch.

My brothers (both live in a different state) have called recently to say that they too have done some healing. They’re both at different stages of the journey, but progress is apparent and for that I am grateful.

Every task you perform as a parent leaves a lasting impression on your children. Tread carefully, purposefully and above all, look for opportunities to express your love for them. Give them memories to treasure and relish. They may need a reprieve at some point in their lives, and the key to their revitalization may very well come from their past experience, which rests with you.

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