Ceci and her stepdadCeci Browning

My friends have a blind spot. A big one. As finalists, we have spent the last few weeks discussing our plans for graduation and not one of them has paid any attention to the fact that my family is not the same as theirs. It comes up sometimes, only if I bring it up, that it’s not so easy for me to slot into their plans but they move swiftly on, as if my logistical problems are dampening their excitement and I should never have said anything at all.

“My family are staying at the Varsity hotel afterwards”, one of the girls says, “and taking me to The Ivy the day after. You should make sure that you book soon or else everywhere will be full. Really, be quick.”

I wince, but nobody notices.

“Two parents. Two guests. Easy”

On the day of graduation, each student gets two guests at the Senate House to watch them collect their degree certificate. Two parents. Two guests. Easy.

At the graduation dinner the college hosts that evening, each student gets four guests. Two parents plus two siblings equals four guests. Easy.

My family does not take this shape. I have three parents. With one exception, I am the only one out of all my friends who have parents that are divorced. Unlike my friends, the first thing I think when I meet somebody new is: I wonder if their parents are still together. I try to guess from their words and the way they think whether they were brought up in one house or in two. I try to work out if they might understand what it is like to be raised by more than just two people.

“The ‘together’ of my family is different; it comes in two halves”

When I imagined my graduation, years ago, it looked like everyone else’s. My mum and my dad arrive together, step out opposite doors of a suburban car. My mum is in a floral sundress, with heeled sandals, painted toenails, and a floppy straw hat. Under her arm is a rolled-up picnic blanket. My dad is stood beside her in a blue and white striped shirt and dark sunglasses. He is carrying an insulated zip shopping bag from Marks and Spencer, one of the ones with the shiny silver middle, full of flapjacks and strawberries and sandwiches cut into little triangles.

In this vision I have, I am in my black gown, with its fur hood, ready for the ceremony. The two of them look warmly at me. I have never seen them look as proud of me as they are now. Later, they clap and they cheer and they cry. My dad takes a neatly folded handkerchief from his pocket, ironed the night before, and hands it to my mum, who blows her nose into it.

This is a far cry from what the day will really look like. My mum and my dad will not be staying in a hotel together the night after graduation, like my friends’ parents. They will not drive up to Cambridge together, the morning of, and step out from the same car. They will not take me out for dinner the following evening with my two brothers. The ‘together’ of my family is different; it comes in two halves.

I no longer care that my graduation won’t look like everyone else’s. In fact, I no longer want it to. As always happens in life, what I wanted and who I cared about changed. I am fond of my stepdad in ways that I swore I would never be when he first came into my life, when I was still a girl trying to protect her mum from men who were not her dad. My stepdad is not just an integral part of my family, but also part of me. I am the person I am today because he had a hand in raising me. And I feel proud to be one of his children, even if he wasn’t there right from the beginning. Now, I would like more than anything to have him at my graduation too.

Sadly, my stepdad will not be coming to see me graduate. Although, in theory, he could come to the college dinner afterwards, he has decided that to come only for this part of the day just isn’t worth it. I don’t blame him. Who wants to drive two-hundred miles to stand alone outside the Senate House?


Mountain View

The divorce dilemma

Every time my friends bring up graduation dinner, and that we absolutely must take our parents to the college bar afterwards and have drinks altogether”, as if this is an entirely straightforward thing to do, they overlook me. It makes me feel very tired, like I am wading through glue.

Sometimes I avoid these conversations with my friends, knowing that they cannot understand what my family looks like. I do not want to have to remind everyone, every time, that this is not how things work in my family. There is no ‘altogether’ that isn’t at least a little uncomfortable.

Then I remember that my stepdad will be just as proud of me as my mum and my dad, even though he can’t sit in the Senate House with them. I remind myself that having three parents isn’t a problem, it’s a privilege.

How lucky I am, really, to have three people who love me that much.