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December 7, 2010

Many moons ago I went to a scrapbooking retreat at the behest of a friend.

You know, the over-the-weekend kind where you pack absolutely everything you’ve ever even thought about collecting to use in a scrapbook–stickers, borders, cutters, scissors, glue dots, enough paper to build your own rainforest in green and blue and pink and purple polka dots–and head off to a hotel somewhere to hang with your best gal pals and scrap your heart out.

For me, not so much the creative one in that department, it meant throwing the three stickers I had leftover from childhood, some crumpled paper, the five photos I had time to print beforehand, and my one pair of not-very-sharp edging scissors into a grocery store bag, shoving it in the side pocket of the one tiny duffel bag that had not already been confiscated for leaf/bug-collecting, use as an overflow laundry hamper, or Beyblade storage by my kids I could find, and rushing out the door after a long day at work.

When I arrived at the retreat and the front doors of the hotel slid open in front of me, it was as if the scrapbooking heavens had opened. There was a momentary quiet as a rush of air blew me back a step, and then I was in the thick of it.  Women were everywhere, all over the lobby, piled six or seven deep in some spots, with enormous bags (sometimes two or three) the size of a compact car, filled with everything a girl could ever want to keep her memories in order. The din was deafening–like a war room; chatter at a staccato, breakneck pace; heads bent over patterns and folded-corner magazine pages.

That was just the beginning.

Shortly, table after table went up, feet upon feet of them, in the rooms, in the hallways, in the conference rooms. There were classes and seminars–about vacation photos, and how to crop just so, the proper glue-dot placement, fancy border creation using the last 2-inch square of paper from your scrap pile and a gum wrapper. I was in awe.

I watched as these ladies generated page after beautiful, glossy, fabulous, textured page of memories.  Fingers flew, journaling pens jotted, paper pieces littered the floors, the smell of glue was heavy in the air. I could see the sweat on the brows of the ladies up and down the hallways, heads bent in concentration.

And I?

Was stuck.

Oh, I was excited to capture my memories, too.  I was like a kid in a candy store, looking at all of the things around me I could buy to make my scrapbook the most amazing scrapbook ever.  I dreamed, in the corner of my mind, of the kids opening my fantastic creation and ooohing and aaahing over it.  I saw them, as if they were there in holographic form (like Princess Leah from StarWars), excitedly recounting this activity and that, thrilled at the sight of our happenings, set against an ornate backdrop of pattern and ribbon and frame.

But the longer I watched the whole crew of scrapbookers working feverishly, the more like an outsider I felt.  I heard their stories about their trips to Disneyworld, and Yellowstone, and camping… and little Joey and his amazing accomplishments… and the second honeymoon trip to Hawaii… and all I could think about was the fact that I was “just the Stepmom”.

Sure, I had claim to some memories for Freddy–biologically mine.  But the rest of the crew?  I felt like a fake, like somewhere I had stepped into someone else’s life and was just pretending, just putting on a good face so that no one out there would know that we weren’t a “real” family.  Snippets of uncomfortable conversation flashed in and out of my head–who belongs to whom, and the visitation schedule, and what happened, and oh… my…

Interloper, not a party to this action, not my Mom…

Suddenly I didn’t want to make any pages, or talk to anyone, or put up anything in the window of our room.  I didn’t want to answer questions, or hear the Not Real, Not Real chant in my head.  I didn’t want to see the judgmental stares of the people with intact families, or feel their pity because I didn’t have the same great, solid memories they did.


It was a long, uncomfortable weekend.

I can still feel the twinge.

But the last couple of years has been different for me.

I have once again taken up scrapbooking, though I am not cut out (no pun intended) for the paper kind.  I get overwhelmed by the mountain of supplies I need to have just to make one page, I don’t have storage space for the compact-car bag nor can I lift the darn thing, and it’s hard for me to commit to a layout without changing it up seventy-five thousand times.  Not so much on the cutter, paper, glue-dot, fancy border front.

I have, however, fallen in love with digital scrapbooking.  And?  Most of the elements I use are out there for free!  I think I may have mentioned previously that I’m a total sucker for free, or hugely discounted, or bargain-of-the-century.

So it’s a new passion, this digital memory making.  I have thousands of photos, from every event we’ve hosted or been to or even sort of thought about over the years. Pictures of birthday presents and blowing out candles, Santa visiting and Elementary School Thanksgiving plays; continuations and swimming and camping and Nerf gun wars and sleeping-in-the-car-with-drool-in-the-corner-of-your-mouth (Shaggy).


And? I’ve been madly making those photos into lovely pages, with backdrops of pattern and ribbon and frame, just virtually.

The big change, though, isn’t in the medium, it’s in the designer.  Somewhere in the space of the last few years, after the court battling settled, and the ridiculousness with The Egg Donor (ED) became a buzzing annoyance rather than a constant roar, I realized that my family IS a real family.  MY real family.

Though I can’t claim four of my children biologically, they are mine.  Period.  After ten years together, filled with tears and laughter, and yelling and talking, and sharing and growing… they’re mine.  Whatever the world calls it, there’s no step left.

And these memories we’re making?  They’re ours.  They will never belong to anyone else.  And they aren’t memories The Egg Donor can erase with her ugliness and spite.  They’re indelible, cemented in our brains forever, for better or worse, these things we do together.

When we’re 100, we’ll be looking back at pages filled with s’more-making and horseback riding and we’ll remember lovingly the time we spent together, up in the mountains,  amidst a forest of pine… our family.  We’ll see that we were laughing (we were, in between warnings about falling into the fire and not stabbing your brother with a white-hot s’more stick), and hugging, and enjoying the ease of relationship without words.

We’ll remember camping, and go-cart driving, and summer festivals, and swimming, and school plays, and holidays, and snow-filled Easters, and hiking around a lake, and our puppies, and our home, and the people who made it feel like home.  Us.



Broken and mended.

And stronger for it.

Beautiful memories I have made with My Hubby and these five, my most favorite people on earth.  Memories that I couldn’t have made with anyone else, at any other time.

MY family.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Krysta permalink
    December 7, 2010 8:28 am

    Steph, I am so happy you are posting again and posts like this warm my heart to the very core. You and yours are very much a real family, with all the drama, heartache, stress and tremendous amounts of joy and love. You are amazing, funny, kind, warm and just a little crazy, which is how I know we’re related. 🙂

  2. Desiree permalink
    December 7, 2010 8:55 am

    By far my most favorite post to date! I can 100% relate to the feelings of not belonging, mostly based off of the feelings of outsiders that can make you question where your place is. But also to knowing that you do have a spot in their lives, and no definition of what family means can or will ever change that. I have struggled, and if I’m being completely honest, still do struggle at times to know where the line is of what is ok, what isn’t, who will be upset if I do or don’t do this. It’s exhausting! So, for the most part, I just live in the moment, and try to enjoy my little family… no matter how broken and mended it may be at times. I loved this post! Thank you so much for sharing it!

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