Friday, June 3, 2011

Half Sibling

Connected by the color orange.

We were all driving in the car the other day--Andy, the kids and I--when I turned to Jake and said, "Share the fill-in-the-blank-junk-food with your sister."

"Half sister," Jake said.


I turned all the way around this time.

"What do you mean, half sister?"

"That's what the school nurse said, Mom. She said Elke was my half sister."

I've worked so hard in making sure my kids don't feel left out of each other's lives. I've worked so hard collecting what's right for our family. Jake knows his parents are divorced. He knows he has a stepfather. Even Elke, at 2, knows C. is Jake's dad. (Click here for refresher.) But there's no need to push a statement like that in a child's face. It makes it seem like their relationship is less legitimate, and maybe I'm being sensitive. But it's my job to protect my children. There is no half. There is only a whole. There is only a family--one whole family--as blended and separate as we may be. And when it comes to Elke and Jake's relationship, there is absolutely no need to qualify the blood lines or that the fathers are different. We're talking about two children who live in the same house. Two children who share toys. Two children who brush teeth at night together. Who fight over the green seat by the TV, you know? Half sister is a slap in the face to their relationship just as if someone adopted was introduced by a sibling, "This is my adopted sister." Needless to say, I became enraged.

So I gritted my teeth and we listened to Jake's story. I asked him how the discussion about half sister even came up. He said that she was talking to the class. And from what I gathered, she was talking about different types of families. Which, I guess, in theory, is fine. She may have asked whose parents were divorced--and now that I'm writing, I'm getting more enraged, something about having to answer such personal family questions in front of other kids--and so Jake raised his hand.

"Your sister is a half sister then," the nurse said.

I'd call her a bitch, but she's too old. Is that too harsh? Sorry. I don't like it when insensitive teachers are attempting to school my children about their lives. It makes me want to tear their eyes out. Yeah, I'm a little overprotective, I guess.

"Jake, she's right," I said. "Elke is your half sister. She is correct about the term. She's correct because you and Elke have different fathers. But we don't use that term in our family."


"Because we don't need to. Elke is your sister. Period. End of sentence. You are Elke's brother. Period."

"Then why did the nurse say that, Mom?"

"I think she was teaching a lesson, babe," I said. (I hoped.) "And in that lesson, she was correct.  But it's just a word, buddy. A sister is a sister and a brother is a brother. No need to say half. Not at all. It means nothing."

Andy put his hand on my lap. "I think you need to call the school," he said.

And though I'm still furious and hurt as I write this, I know now, because it's a few days later, that not everyone knows the right words for blended families. The nurse isn't a bad person. She's a sweet lady, much, much older, and I'll give her the benefit of the doubt that she was attempting to talk about a family situation, and didn't know how to handle it with sensitivity. There are ways. There are other ways than this.

I'll call the school today. I'll have a talk with her and ask her what happened. And maybe the next time she talks to a class of first graders she'll explain what a half-sibling is differently. That it's just a term. That it doesn't take away the love or the connection that two children with different fathers have for each other. That a half sister or a half brother is still a sibling.

Just like all the other kids with annoying little sisters or brothers they have to share their snack in the car with.


  1. I hear you. There is no 'half' in our house either.

  2. I feel so frustrated-it's the piece I missed. I think I assume everyone is going to handle my children with great sensitivity... and then oh, hello world! Thanks for posting Maggie.


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