DC widow Marjorie Brimley with her three children
New Perspectives


At the end of last year, I got on a shuttle bus at the airport with my kids and my dad.  Tommy sat with my dad and I sat with Claire and Austin.  We were on our way to Texas and everyone was really excited.

At the next stop, another family got on.  It was a mom, a dad and two kids.  They sat together and the parents chatted happily with the kids.  To most outside observers, the scene was nothing out of the ordinary.  But it struck me how much watching them bothered me.  They were the family I was supposed to have.

I’m sure they didn’t think much about us.  They were looking at their itinerary, excited about their own trip.  I don’t remember thinking much about the people who surrounded me when I was traveling with Shawn and the kids.  I was just happy to be together.

I looked out the window and reminded myself not to be overly sensitive about things that I could not control.  Why should I be jealous of this family?  I mean, they might be on the verge of divorce, or traveling to a funeral.  Both seemed unlikely, but what did I know about their lives?

The bus stopped to pick up more travelers, and I chatted with my kids.  At the final stop, a family with really young kids got on.  I saw the mom step on to the bus holding the hands of two very small boys and behind her stood someone holding car seats.  “I remember when Shawn had that role,” I thought.

The littlest boy sat down and began yelling “mama!” repetitively.  I sat there for a moment, confused about what was going on.  His mom appeared to be ignoring him.  “Oh,” I almost said out loud as I looked at the car-seat holding parent.  The other parent was also a mom.

Mom and mama.  The boys kept referring to both of them throughout the ride, loudly calling each of their names, and the mom who sat closest to me gave me an embarrassed smile.  I returned it with a big one of my own.  “I remember those days,” I said, as though my own children were grown, rather than just a few years older than her own.  “It’s hard when they are so little.”  She nodded in agreement.  She looked tired, but happy.

Eventually, the bus pulled up to the airport and we all got off.  We walked together for a bit, and all the kids ran alongside each other.  Eventually, we parted without saying goodbye, as you do with strangers.  We all had flights to catch.  I walked for a while thinking about them.

They were simply a family trying to make it through the airport with young kids.  They were just like the other family I’d seen on the bus, I suppose, but with two moms instead of a mom and a dad.  For some reason, it made me feel really happy to be around them.  While I know plenty of same-sex couples at my church and in my community, seeing a happy family at the airport that was just a bit outside the “normal” conventions of family was comforting to me.

I thought a lot about how to lay out this blog post, because I didn’t want this to come across the wrong way.  So this may not be perfectly said, but I’ll give it my best shot:  I feel so lucky that “untraditional” families are much more common now.  Because when I see a grandmother with her grandchildren, or a single dad with his son, or a same-sex couple with their young kids, I feel like my family is not so different from anyone else’s.

I realize that there are people out there who are probably rolling their eyes and thinking, “yes, Marjorie, welcome to the reality that we’ve all been living for much of our lives.”  I get it.  I don’t know what it’s like to face repeated strange looks or discrimination because of who I love.  But I understand, at least a little bit, what it’s like to feel like my family is different.  So I want to say this – thank God for all of the people who’ve redefined family before I had to do it for myself.  You all have blazed an important path for me. 

My family doesn’t look like many of the others that we know in our neighborhood.  But we’re not the only family that’s just a bit untraditional, both in our neighborhood and in the outside world.  That’s a real comfort to me.  

Image Credit: Stefanie Harrington Photography.


  • Carmelita

    That’s so sweet. I’m a family now with my oldest daughter living with me because of her chronic illness. That’s different. Not what I expected, but that’s the way it is. And I waited till my 40s to have children, my husband was in his 50s, and that was weird! So I guess it’s just all kinds of families out there.As my therapist would say: doing the best we can.

    • Marjorie

      I have learned a lot about families this year, and about what it means to be a family. At the end of the day it’s about love and nothing else.

  • Ian

    This is a good place to arrive at, and I can’t help but notice how much of this post is infused with optimism and happiness. Those things seem ‘on the move’ in your writing of late, which is great!

  • Melissa

    This made me smile when I remembered what happened to me when my step-daughter came to live with us shortly after my husband and I married. She was 14 and my kids were 11 and 5. She was taller than I was and looked a couple of years older than her actual age. It was after the school year had begun so we had to go to the middle school to register her for classes. She wouldn’t be attending right away, so we started walking down one of the hallways out to the parking lot. A woman teacher at the other end of the hall called out to us, “Girls! Girls! You can’t go down there!” I turned around and said, “It’s okay! I’m her mother!” The teacher was a little embarrassed but replied, “I wish someone would mistake me for one of the students!”

  • Jonnie

    I’ve just finished binge-reading your entire blog over the past 48 hours. Thank you for sharing your amazing, honest, inspiring, heartbreaking (I went through two boxes of tissues!) story of survival and perseverance. I can’t relate to your loss, but the humanity of your words speaks to a truth I believe we can all relate to. Ironically, this last post rang especially true for me. I’ve been a single father since my son was 5 months old, he’ll be 9 in less than 2 weeks. I remember feeling so lost and confused that first year(s). It just all seemed impossible…. BUT, somehow, things did get easier. Life goes on… you meet people… if you’re lucky you find love like I did and you just keep walking… one foot, then the next… THANK YOU and I wish you happiness and peace in this year of YES.

    • Marjorie

      Thank you so much for such an inspiring story. It’s hard to imagine moving beyond this first year, but when I hear about people who did it, I feel so much better. I know we will be okay, it’s just that I don’t know the endpoint yet. Maybe there isn’t one. Maybe it’s just putting one foot in front of the other, as you say.

  • Kate

    Growing up, I was always part of that family that seemed to “have it all.” My parents were (and still are) together, we had a comfortable income, everyone was mostly healthy with the exception of a chronic kidney condition that my dad had, we had a fairly nice house in a good neighborhood… we had it made, right? And yeah, we did. But on the INSIDE… I was struggling hard. Both my little sister and I were adopted and both dealing with the trauma of that. I struggled socially in school and behaviorally at home. My parents couldn’t understand me and I couldn’t understand myself. Now I’m 31, married with 2 kids of my own. Things are much better. But my childhood served as a great reminder that appearances can be deceiving! Just as you said about that first family on the shuttle. It taught me to have more grace and patience with everyone because you really never know what someone is fighting out of sight of the public.

    • Marjorie

      Yes – we NEVER know what someone else is going through. Maybe that person being a jerk at the grocery store is actually taking care of someone who is in hospice. Or maybe not. But I have had so many times when I thought, “if only all these people knew what I was going through, they’d be a lot nicer.” So I try and remember that as much as I can now.