When Family Trees Get Complicated

Out of the blue this morning, on the way to day camp, Mary Tyler Son said, “It’s great that Mary Tyler Toddler (I assure you he does not call his brother this in real life) is the fifth member of our modern family tree.”

“How sweet,” I thought, “This guy is thinking of both his gratitude for his brother being a part of our family as well as including his dear sister, Donna, who died when he was just a wee sprout.”

Mary Tyler Son went on to explain his conception of the family tree from his vantage point as a six year old.  “There’s Mom and Dad and me and Mary Tyler Toddler!  Oh wait!  That’s just four members of our family tree — not five.”

I gently corrected him and reminded him that even though she was no longer with us, Donna was still very much a part of our family and therefore part of our family tree. It’s important for me to convey to my sons that even when people are not with us day-to-day, they are still a part of us.  He got it, it seems, as he gleefully replied, “OH!  You mean like how Da is dead, but still a part of our family!”  Yes, exactly, with perhaps a tad less glee.

Family Tree2

We were driving down a tree lined street and I looked up and saw that more than a few trees had dead branches lacking leaves.  Perfect visual to explain my point.  Mary Tyler Son decided that we should make a family tree to hang at home and put fabric leaves on the family members who are alive and simply remove the fabric when the person dies.

Great idea, kid.  But I really, really hope not to remove any more fabric from our family tree for a long, long time.

This little conversation got me thinking about how family trees can get complicated. Ours will be impacted by both death and adoption.  And if I thought explaining death to a little one was hard, I do not relish the conversations in our future about adoption. Those of you with blended families know exactly what I mean.  Divorce and remarriage and “half” siblings (I’ve always hated that expression) has got to be complicated, too.

I miss my uncomplicated life.  The one where both my parents were living.  The one where my kids had grandparents from both sides of their family tree.  The one where cancer only claimed older relatives in their 90s who were ready to die.  The one where I didn’t have to explain to my kids that one of them was adopted and the other was not.

Now, mind you, that “uncomplicated life” is never one I have lived.  A gal can dream, though, right?

I sometimes wish I had that easy capacity little kids have to integrate tough stuff then blithely move forward with the day.  I get bogged down way more than my six year old does with the grief and the nuances.  I mean, aren’t you tired of reading about it on my posts?  Some days it feels like every little freaking thing is a metaphor for loss or grief.


Okay.  Time for this little beaver to buck the heck up.

Life is complicated.  For all of us.  For some of us, those complications are more apparent.  For others, those complications are hidden or not so easy to see with the naked eye, but they are there.

It is a warm sunshiney day.  Imma stop thinking about family trees and go take a walk with the little one to find some trees.  In a park.  Which is not very complicated at all.


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