The Bonus of a Blended Family

By Toni Grates

It was 2007 and I was arriving at the Toronto airport, excited to see my boyfriend, Clarry, on the other side. There he was at the gate, smiling from ear to ear. I hadn’t seen him in 3 weeks and was so ready to go home, order some Chinese food and catch up.

“I just found out that Cassius needs an angel costume for tomorrow’s pageant. Can you help me tonight?” Somewhere in between Mommy’s house and Daddy’s house, his son’s angel costume had fallen by the wayside.

I headed to Clarry’s and channeled my inner MacGyver as I created an angel costume out of an old sheet and some rope. Literally, a wing and a prayer. I was pretty proud of myself. It didn’t look so bad, as long as you knew which hole went where and how to maneuver the rope so that he looked like an angel and not a lopsided ghost. Cassius was happy and Clarry was relieved!

The next day came and I changed my schedule so that I could be at the pageant. Clearly some of the parents had spent longer than 30 minutes making their costumes. Clearly some of them had used thread. Oh, well. It’s about the children. The teacher stood at the front of the church and asked all the parents of the grade ones to put their angel costumes on and make their way to the altar.

I wasn’t the parent. I wasn’t even the step-parent at that time. Cassius’ mom turned around from 4 pews ahead and signaled for us to send up the angel costume. I watched in horror as she put the costume on incorrectly. “I can’t move my arms,” I heard Cassius say. Off he went, tripping over himself up to the altar. I died inside, watching the other kids flapping their wings in full glory, while Cassius struggled to free his right arm. It was less angel costume and more straight jacket. “Don’t feel bad,” Clarry consoled me, “It’s not about the costume.” He was right. So why did I feel so bad?

Being a step-parent or a step-parent-in-training can often be confusing. It’s challenging to navigate through the boundaries and find a place that feels both comfortable and sustainable. I’m personally not a big fan of the dreaded “step” in step-mom, so we don’t use that word at our house. We switched to bonus-mom. I got BONUS points on my test! I made the BONUS round! I got a BONUS at work! See how much more fun bonus is?

It’s been a long time since I made that angel costume, but it’ll always stand out as my initiation into blended family life. It certainly isn’t always easy to navigate through blended family living, but a positive attitude, some resourcefulness and a sense of humour make for a much more fulfilling ride. Cheers to all of you wonderful men and women who have taken on parental roles with the children in your lives. I hope you’ll join me in using the term “bonus” to describe yourself, since that is in fact what you are.

Toni Grates

Toni Grates is a yoga instructor, actor, writer & the Artistic Director of the Travelling Stage.  She’s also a domesticated nomad, unconcerned with societal norms.

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