Walking into a quiet home at the end of the day is long forgotten memory of his, and when he does it today it sets off all sorts of alarms. His wife is reading a piece of paper at the table, sipping a glass of tea while shaking her head. As for his youngest daughter, she appears to be sitting in the living room doing her homework. It is uncharacteristic of her to be listening to her mother so plainly.
“How was everyone’s day?’ He shouts into the house excitedly. Perhaps it was just a long day for everyone and they’re tired? The routine he’s become accustomed to over the last few years comes easily. Hang up his coat on the hook, drop his keys into a wicker basket, and kick his shoes off underneath the cabinet so that they don’t get lost in the closet.
The youngest runs away from the coffee table with a smile, as she generally does, and greets him pure joy; “Can I have my after school snack now?” This alerts him that something must have happened that was serious. It must have been something that disrupted the schedule.
“Sure thing, Louisa, but let me talk to mommy really fast, okay?” Poor girl is only seven years old so she doesn’t have as much awareness as her older sisters. Louisa crosses her arms and sticks her tongue out, agreeing to wait just a little bit longer ‘since he asked nicely.’ Back to her homework she goes just before his wife calls him into the kitchen.
“One of us needs to take a vacation, apparently.”
In a predictable fashion he starts listing anything he may have done to upset his wife… (forgot to take the trash out, didn’t fold the laundry, stepped one of the Lego sets… it could be any number of things he brushed off!) Having been cheated on by his last wife, well, he simply couldn’t help but wonder if he’d done something to put Dana off? Marriages fall apart in less time than they’ve been together these days. A second divorce would break him entirely and his daughter, Cassie, probably couldn’t handle it either. She has only just started really bonding with her stepsisters.
“What makes you say that?” Before responding she hollers for Louisa to take her homework into the family room downstairs. There’s a bit of a tantrum. The family room downstairs has a much smaller television because it’s supposed to be a “social” and, or, “activity” room. Louisa hates being down there alone because there aren’t enough distractions from her homework – and how will she stay up later if she finishes her homework right after school? She tries so hard to be a con artist but her mother has the whole heist on lock.
Kissing his wife on the cheek before getting his own drink, which happens to be a small glass of scotch, he tries to stop himself from listing. Lazily trying to bustle through the kitchen forces him to slow down and try to listen for Dana’s explanation. A few minutes of silence do pass, and it drives him nearly mad, but when Dana does begin sharing the afternoon events? He’s actually surprised – one hundred percent shocked.
About three hours ago Dana received a call from Gemma’s school principal. It wasn’t just an office aide contacting her but the principal himself. A young woman was being asked to remove her hijab in front of the entire eighth grade class during lunch. Gemma was less than impressed and went to the young lady’s defense. It ended in a shouting match about prejudice and freedom of expression.
“Gemma says that she calmly told him that he was not at liberty to restrict her wardrobe, especially when fitting within the parameters of the school handbook regarding apparel. A parent was watching from the office, though, and must have wanted immediate results. The principal told her that she had no business to speak on the matter because it was between the young woman, her parents, and the school staff. She had no patience for him after that, I guess, and she’s gotten herself suspended for the entirety of next week, effective immediately.” As he listens to the secondhand recollection there are similarities in the incident to another he faced. Cassie once had a confrontation with a pastor that came to the house after Cassie and he decided to stop attending church. It was his misfortunate that Cassie answered the door – and even worse than that that he had the audacity to imply to an angry teenager that the Church is all forgiving. That man learned a valuable lesson that night, and is hopefully prepared for his own teenagers.
Now with her own confrontation on social issues under her belt, it would appear that Cassie and Gemma will make perfect sisters in the future. Even if Cassie’s spectacle wasn’t nearly as public, Gemma proves by standing up for another person’s rights that she is every bit as conscious about the world as his biological daughter. They’ve both made him very proud.
“Cassie seems to have rubbed off on her, huh?” He says it as a joke. It doesn’t seem to sit well with his wife, though, and he corrects himself; “I’m sorry, Dana. I know that Gemma will have to explain at her college interviews. At least it’s for a good reason and not something that is actually bad. Getting in trouble fighting for justice is not the same as being locked up for assalt.” If he was being honest, he could both see what rules were broken and not understand which rules were violated. In his mind the only question was in regard to the other staff members who chose to let this entire scene play out as it did without stepping in to protect the children who needed it. Plain discrimination such as this deserved to be opposed.
“I’m not worried about Gemma’s permanent record. I’m worried about how she’s going to be treated because of this incident. If the principal is willing to openly demand a young lady to remove her hijab then I can’t see him being unafraid to single out Gemma either. Every toe she puts out of line – or even on the line! – is going to be punished twice as hard now that she’s made a public scene of herself.” Dana drones on and on about all of the issues that come with standing up in a conservative community. Cassie had been ostracized after her abandonment of faith. People who claimed to be her friends whispered of her so called “sinful” lifestyle. It was not at all out of the question that Gemma would face the same passive judgment for her decision to stand up against the principal.
It makes sense to him why one of them needs to take a vacation. They could both technically work from home comfortably. It would just depend on which person has more flexibility in the next week’s schedule. Gemma could technically stay home by herself, but it would be unwise to leave a fourteen year old alone for eight hours for five days in a row.
“Maybe we could get Cassie to come back next week and sit with her. They get along really well and I think that Cassie could coach her through what happens next.” Dana laughs at the proposition initially, but does agree that Cassie may be what exactly the person Gemma needs right now. As parents they both agree with their daughter’s choice in defending the other girl’s right to honor and practice her faith in school. Unfortunately, they have to navigate these waters carefully now. Social consequences are always worse than the school administered punishment.
“Well, Todd, you’ll have to talk to her about it. Her suspension is effective immediately so she can’t go to class tomorrow. She’ll get a jump-start on her assignments since they’re still letting her get credit for her work. If we can get Cassie up here tonight then neither of us has to miss work tomorrow. Although, I left today, so it’ll be your day tomorrow if she can’t.” Dana stands up, admitting that she needs to get Louisa her snack before she explodes with rage. Before his wife even makes it out of the kitchen he’s sent a message to his daughter. Thankfully, she calls rather than texts back – stating that she’ll do anything to help with Gemma – just say the word.
Blended family or not, Todd knows that his girls are each fantastic women. Each person fits perfectly with the others. Looking back at his life he sometimes wonders how the five of them ever functioned without one another. This may not be the life he thought he’d live a few decades ago, but this life was so much better than he could have imagined. Everything was worth getting to this day, and every single day to come.