Friday, 13 March 2009

Labels aren't just for clothes

'Are you The Child's, ummm aunty?'

I've got to hand it to my young cousin, despite only being four at the time she had the streets smart of someone far beyond her years. My cousin's parents had been separated for years and her mum happily re-partnered with man that my cousin now refers to as her stepdad despite no formal marriage taking place. Along the way my cousin had a few 'uncles' and knew playmates who often had their parents significant others masquerading as 'aunties' and 'uncles.'

But right now I was at a complete loss to answer my cousin's question so went for the factual one, umm no The Child already has an aunty, two in fact if you count The Suit's sister-in-law.

'Well are you The Child's stepmum?'

Fuck. How the hell do I answer that kind of question within earshot of The Child who I only met a few months ago? The answer was a Dora the Explorer DVD and hope that my cousin will be distracted long enough to drop the topic.

The truth was I wasn't and still don't really know how to put into words my relationship with The child.Because let’s face it, once you put a label on someone you assign a whole bunch of emotions and associations to the person or thing you are labeling. Like for instance, the child's mother.

When I use the term 'the ex wife' it conjures up all the negative and sometimes hateful emotions one might expect. The ex wife label defines her in relation to The Suit and their fucked up marriage. However when I call her the Child's Mother it almost humanizes her and softens the imagery a bit, a more delicate label evokes a more positive emotional response.

But what about me? The term stepmother comes with so many negative connotations. It’s true that as I hone in on 30 I do have more facial hair than I’d like to admit but I do not in anyway resemble the stereotypical wicked stepmother depicted in those fairy tales. You will not find a single wart on my nose and despite the state of the garage I'm pretty sure that there are no dungeons or spinning wheels to be found around my home. Moreover anything term that uses the term 'mum' is likely to further piss off the Child's mother who is already feeling a bit jealous and threatened by my existence.

The only person who didn't seem to give rat's ass about the whole situation was The Child. She knew daddy loved me and I loved Daddy and we both cared for her which was really the most important bit. An extra person meant an extra present at Christmas and Birthday time for the Child, plus someone with another set of interests and hobbies to keep her entertained. She has always referred to me as ex-expat, and truth be told we didn't really need a label because I had always just been 'her' ex-expat. Secretly I worried that if we didn't attempt to label our relationship someone else would do so for us and seek to define my relationship with the child from their own perspective but in the end we decided to let the issue lie until the child raised it.

Sure enough a week or so ago the child came over demanding to know if I was indeed Daddy's girlfriend. I had wondered if we should try and come up with a label for me before she started school since she'd inevitably have other kids asking her who 'ex-expat' was. But of course my label didn't come from school, it came from her mother's house along with a steady stream of insults designed to make me out to be the wicked witch who has Daddy under a spell. But I'm not bitter.

In the meantime, I continue to search for an appropriate nickname – one that satisfies the child's need to solidify my place in her life while not causing confusion or conflict with her biological mother. The only label I've come up with is 'ex-expat' because that's who I am.


Anonymous said...

In my partners convoluted family, partners are not step - anythings or aunties etc but simply as you have said in your case "ex-expat".

My own kids refer to Grandad and "XXX" and Grandma and "YYY".

Nikki said...

I struggled with that one too and I think Han settled on stepdad for Tobin after discussing it at creche with other kids who did have stepdads of the married kind.

I prefer your way... and often tried to tell Han that Tobin was her friend... or something to that effect. I mean, that didn't work either but it was a more comfortable relationship than stepparent!

I also find it hard with the whole stepdad thing as that implies a whole lot more responsibility for my partner (should I ever get another!) when I'm not necessarily comfortable with that. There simply isn't any term which defines the start of a relationship with some one that might become a step parent. (And I don't think I want one!)

Maybe there was some merit into shaming people into staying in an unhappy nuclear family unit.


QoT said...

My stepdad, prior to actually marrying my mum, was always "Mum's partner". It certainly still left some schoolmates confused, but was far less difficult to deal with that "Why don't you have a Daddy?"