Heather and I sat down to record our story for a local podcast (shout out to NYLL). While it is completely terrifying to share such personal moments of your life, it was also cathartic to open up about all the changes we’ve had over the past few years.
If you’d like to listen to us talk about our family and “belligerent love,” listen below:
Download past episodes or subscribe to future episodes of Not Your Little Lady by Sarah Gillis and Allison Carter for…itunes.apple.com
(sorry for dropping those f-bombs, mom)
I had never dated a guy with a kid before, so I knew it would be important to get along with the mother of that child. Chris told me about his and Heather’s relationship and described them as best friends. That was a good sign, I told myself. I was so nervous to meet Heather the first time, I brought a friend of mine with me who is also a stylist, just in case there were any awkward silences. Still, I had to pull over on the way to Alabama because I had a panic attack, worried that she wouldn’t like me
I would say before the custody situation, the family dynamic was similar to any blended family. We shared Piper, and scheduled times to meet, but we didn’t hang out together. Chris and Heather were still very close, but more along the lines of wanting the best for each other. Heather supported our relationship and Chris was excited about Heather’s new career opportunities with Paul Mitchell
The most pivotal moment in our relationship isn’t really talked about much, as it isn’t pleasant. The contentious time. Doing the divorce paperwork. But custody wasn’t so easy because Heather lived in Nashville, and we lived here in Florence. A 50/50 week is virtually impossible with a school-aged child, and everyone was scared what that meant. Our fear of losing a stakehold in Piper’s life turned us against each other. Lawyers got involved, seeds of distrust were planted, and that doubt grew until eventually, we forgot who we were.
There’s an episode of Rick and Morty where Beth and Jerry go to an alien marriage counselor. Part of the therapy is to hook up this machine to their heads and it brings each person’s perceptions of the other to life as monsters. We did that, assumed the other was a monster.
My perception of Heather was someone who didn’t care at all about Chris’s wellbeing or happiness. In my mind she already hurt him by leaving, and was trying to hurt him even more by taking his son away.
Heather’s perception of me was that I was controlling Chris and coming between the two people that brought Piper into existence. In her mind I was cold and determined in trying to push her out of Piper’s life. The comfort she once felt from my skills as a social worker turned into dread.
The lawyers fed off of and into this. We were at war.
With each court date, we became more and more weary. There seemed to be no end in sight, and no foreseeable solution where we would have a healthy relationship afterward.
And then Chris and Heather met on a park bench after one of the court dates. It started with them both being leery of the other, even recording the conversation as the lawyers had advised to do. But after talking for hours, recording devices died and a relationship was reborn.
A potential solution was reached, without lawyers, without judges or hearings, just with two best friends talking, listening, and finally seeing each other again for who they really were. Chris came home uplifted from the conversation, and hopeful that we had a brighter future. I was more suspicious. I stayed this way, interpreting her every move as manipulation. Until one day, we had our conversation. I can’t tell you what it was about, and I can’t remember why we were even in the same room. But I do remember looking Heather in the eyes, and for the first time in a long time, really seeing her. She was vulnerable. She was scared. And I was too. Our family has been like that ever since: heartfelt conversations and striving to truly understand each other.
What is family?
When we were recording the podcast, Heather and I were each asked our definition of family. Heather’s definition after being abandoned by first her biological family and then her adoptive family was LOYALTY. To have a soft place to be herself and to be loved.
For myself, my definition was different. Because I have no shared DNA with any member of this family, for me family is about choice. When I fell in love with Chris, I chose to be by his side no matter what. Eventually that choice included Piper and Heather too.
“It takes a village to raise a family” is a saying we’ve always heard about raising children. I don’t know if I fully believed this. Had we actually fought through a custody battle, Piper would still be alive, and his needs would be met. However, I like to think he is happier, more fulfilled having a village surrounding him that not only loves him, but loves each other.
Our village has a kickass dad in Chris, who encourages creativity and silliness. His patience is out of this world. It’s amazing to see Piper explore the world with logic and kindness just like his dad.
As for the moms, we are totally opposite of each other.
I don’t get excited about things. I plan things. But a kid’s life is supposed to be about excitement and happiness and love.
Heather brings the excitement. I can hear her voice in Piper when he gets passionate about something.
He needs his toenails clipped and doctor appointments made, but he also NEEDS joy.
And between our village, he has all the bases covered.
Our village has two newer members, Heather’s partner Lauren and her son, Maddox. Piper now has another mother and a brother. Our family is so awesome, it’s now expanding! In all seriousness, this family unit would not have been possible without the redemption between Heather and Chris.
It’s important to know our story is not just how a family came to be. It’s how a family came to accept each individual as who they are. It started with Heather accepting herself as a gay woman. Then Chris accepting Heather as a gay woman while discovering what this meant for him.
This has been the theme of our lives — learning how to love each other. We want each member of our family to fully be themselves. Now, we see this acceptance in the children of our family too, loving their own and each other’s strengths, passions, flaws, and fears.
There’s a cliché print in our house that says:
“In this house, we do real, we do mistakes, we do ‘I’m sorry’, we do fun, we do hugs, we do second chances, we do happy, we do forgiveness, we do family, we do love.”
I can’t think of a better example of how we do life together. And I wouldn’t pick anyone else to do life with.