Becoming an outlaw

Since he had words, my son has been trying to find the right names for the complicated constellation of adults in his life. For years, he called Taylor “Daddy’s husband” and could not be persuaded to call her what she was: Daddy’s girlfriend.

With a good number of his aunts, uncles and grandparents divorced and reconfigured in relationship, Teddy still struggles with the nuanced language of step-families, in-laws, and what to call partnerships and tribes that don’t fit easily within our societal norms.

For example, Teddy seems to feel strongly that the new kitty at his father’s home must have a specific relationship with me. In his attempt to define our roles, first Teddy experimented with calling me Lucky’s mother-in-law. Nope. Step-mother? I don’t think so.  We settled on calling me Lucky’s aunt, as this seemed friendly, non-parental and vague enough for our loose affiliation.

Teddy is not the only one in the family struggling to define the undefinable. Taylor and I had a conversation recently about what we should call each other. The language available to us offered two choices: defining Pete’s possession or non-possession of us (I the ex-wife, she the soon-to-be new wife), or defining our primary or semi-primary parenting roles (mother, step-mother).

No thank you. 

What all of these choices lack is the definition of who we are to each other: the two women who share a love of a man and a child—each with different roles to play in those loves.

We’re not in-laws, exactly. We needed something that put us close to that ground, but also honored the contradictions, the pain, the sacrifices that welcoming each other as family involved.

I proposed that we call each other “outlaws”. And it stuck.

I love about thinking about Taylor as my outlaw. It’s language that honors that we’re doing family in our own way. To me, “outlaw” says we’re close, but there’s an edginess to that closeness. We take our power to affect each other’s lives seriously, and we navigate the terms of our relationship with great care and respect.

Outlaws. No one wants to mess with them. They’ve found a way around the conventional. They take fate into their own hands. They do heroism in their own way, together.

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