Before & After
Macy Jordahl’s childhood was split into two parts: the before and the after. Her childhood began in a modest home in Fountain, Colorado where she lived with her father Jeff and her mother Jana. When she was young, she viewed her family through the idyllic lens of child, and she saw her life with her parents and her older sister Leanna as perfect.
“We were all very close and bonded as a family. My dad and my sister would fight sometimes but she was a teenager so that was normal,” Jordahl said. “But other than that, our family was full of love and affection when I was little.”
The fondest memories from her childhood revolved around the most central figure in her life: her mother. Jana Jarmillo was a vibrant and vivacious woman who fiercely loved those she cared about most.
“My mom was always at the center of things,” Jordahl said. “She was always making people laugh and she always tried to make people feel comfortable and happy.”
And it had always been that way. Her parents met at a chili cookoff in the mid-nineties, and her dad was immediately drawn to her mom’s charisma and lively personality. She came from a loud and boisterous family that was always throwing parties marked by karaoke contests and delicious home cooking.
“My parents were really happy for a while, I think they met like three years before they had me, so I know they used to have a lot of fun together and their marriage was good at first.”
However, that would eventually change as Macy’s mother’s life choices began to affect the lives of everyone in the family.
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Under her fun loving and lively exterior, a larger problem was brewing in Jana Jarmillo’s life. Addiction problems ran in her family, and her struggle with it began to disrupt all of the relationships in her life.
“My mom always had an alcohol problem, so it was one of those things where when my parents first met my dad didn’t really understand how bad it was,” Jordahl said. “But then as they were together for longer it started to get uncovered. I guess they used to try to do fun things to get her mind off of the alcohol but it didn’t really work. So, they were happy but the problem was always kind of there.”
Her mother was able to stop drinking for a while when Macy was born.
“About the time they had me, my mom sort of stopped drinking, but around the time I turned four she started up again.” Jordahl said.
Her struggle with alcohol heightened as time went on, eventually causing Macy’s father to file for divorce. But this did not immediately solve the problem because her mother still had access to their house and she lived there on a part time basis. Her unpredictable schedule and transient nature put a great deal of strain on both Macy and her father.
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Around the time that things were getting truly difficult with her mom, Macy’s father met a woman named Karin Gurokovich. Karin was the principal of Frontier Charter School where Jeff had just started teaching, and the two began to hit it off.
“My dad met Karin in January of my first-grade year,” Jordahl said. “And then they started dating and we sort of became this little family: my dad, Karin, and her kids Matthew and Alexa, but it was actually really weird.”
As a child Macy struggled to understand what was going on in her life with her dad in a new relationship and her mom and sister thousands of miles away in Maryland. As Macy’s dad’s and Karin’s relationship became more serious, the two families began to spend more and more time together.
“It was strange because they began to sort of move us in together without really telling me what was going on, it just kind of happened.” Jordahl said. “My dad started telling me that I could bring toys and clothes over to their house and then he would tell me to just leave them there, which was very confusing for me.”
Eventually the five of them all moved in to Karin’s cramped three-bedroom house. The transition proved difficult for all of them, especially Macy.
“That time in my life was really, really hard for me. It was kind of this concept where suddenly I didn’t get to see my family on my mom’s side anymore. And we used to be really close, we used to spend holidays with them and I was very close with all of my cousins,” Jordahl said. “Then when my mom moved away and we moved in with Karin and her family, all of that was just suddenly taken away from me.”
Macy desperately tried to find a balance between her old family and the new family that her father was building for her, but as an elementary student she only had so much control over her life.
“They were trying to force us to be this weird little family and I was not ready for that,” Jordahl said. “I was very upset, and it was a time of I don’t want to quite call it depression, but I was a mad little kid.”
This feeling soon began to cause strife between Macy and Karin. Macy was having a much harder time transitioning than the other children, and Karin seemed to see that more as an act of rebellion than as fear of losing her connection to her birth mother’s family.
“I remember Karin and I would have these serious conversations, like we would be in the car and she would say something like, ‘Why are you acting like this? I don’t understand why you’re being so mean to people. Do you even want to be a part of this family?’ and I would be like, ‘no I don’t want to be a part of this family because this is not my family, I already have one and it’s not with you.’”
Conversations like this one were quite frequent at first, and the tensions between Macy and Karin ran high. However, Karin eventually became more patient and compassionate as she began to understand the struggle that Macy was facing.
“They didn’t really give me enough time to process the transition, and I felt like they were just trying to force a new mom and a new family on me.” Jordahl said. “But as I got older and got to know Karin better, I realized that she wasn’t trying to replace my mom and after a while she made that clear to me and our relationship began to improve.”
As the years went on, the five of them truly did begin to become a family. Macy bonded with Karin’s kids and now considers them to be her real brother and sister, and having Karin in her life has helped her cope with the loss of her mom so many years ago.
“Karin and I have a great relationship now, especially starting when I got to high school and now college.” Jordahl said. “I can talk to her about anything and I definitely consider her to be family now.”
And although her new family has brought her a great deal of joy, Macy still has a special place in her heart for her birth mom’s family.
“I don’t get to see my mom’s family nearly as much as I want to and sometimes that makes me feel really guilty, but they know that I love them and I know they love me, so I am still really connected to them.” Jordahl said. “I brought a lot of pictures and mementoes of my mom and her family with me to college and I like to surround myself with those things so then I feel like she’s still here with me.”
So despite the struggles that Macy had to overcome in her childhood, from losing her mother to making room for her stepmom in her life, she is still thankful for the experiences she has had with both of them.
“Even though it has been tough at times, I just like to say that I have been lucky enough to be loved by two moms in my life instead of just one.”