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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Mixed Blessing

Above, Michael and Stephen McCormick, Mike Masse, Rebecca McCormick, and Caitlin and Andrew Masse on June 27, 2008.

When Michael McCormick and Caitlin Masse were on the Cinco Rancho High School cross country team together, they had no idea that their fates would be tragically and joyfully intertwined forever. In 2005 they each lost a parent. Michael's father passed away in July of 2005 after a battle with cancer. Caitlin's mother died five months later after a cardiac event when she was working out at the local YMCA. Both families knew each other. The surviving parents, Mike Masse and Rebecca McCormick turned to one another for support and their relationship eventually blossomed. They were married on June 27, 2008.

During this time, as high school seniors, Michael and Caitlin Masse discovered that they were both Trinity-bound. Michael McCormick came to Trinity for the Music program and Caitlin was drawn to San Antonio for the cross country program. This year, on the same weekend in November when Michael and his step-dad Mike ran the Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon together in San Antonio (photo inset), Caitlin was there to cheer them on following her second place finish in the SCAC championships the day before. Michael still runs, but has put his competetive energy into cycling.

Following their marriage, Rebecca and Mike decided to move into one of their homes rather than start fresh in a new Houston-area residence. The Masse's moved into the McCormick house, which is now home base for Caitlin and her brother Andrew (a student at Texas A&M). They joined the McCormick's, including Michael's brother Stephen, an Austin College grad. At times, it seems, it would be helpful to have a score-card to keep the family members straight.

While there are always adjustments when families mix, this one has had few major issues. Michael McCormick explains "It was a bit difficult to comprehend that my mother was getting married again when I first heard the news when at home for spring break my freshman year. There were obviously a lot of mixed emotions present at first, but those passed very quickly. This has been one of the greatest things to happen in my life within the past few years and I'm so glad that my mother married Mike." He adds, "Both of our families experienced the painful loss of losing a parent (or spouse) and we all have a deep understanding of what each of us went through as a result. This commonality has united us in so many ways and, despite it being a sad event that created this bond, it has allowed our new family to become close rather quickly."

Rebecca, Michael's mother, notes "We tell stories and share memories of our life during our first marriages with each other and with our children & stepchildren. Our bookshelves are lined with photo albums spanning the last 25 years and those are great conversation-starters. We stay in close touch with the members of Sue’s and Kevin’s family. They have been especially warm and accepting of our new family situation. I joke that I have a mother and 3 mother-in-laws."

Mike Masse adds "We try to show all four of the children that life can go on in ways you didn’t even expect and that you can be happy and have a future. While these losses have been hard on us all, we consider ourselves fortunate to have this new blended family. Neither Rebecca nor I have tried to replace the lost parent. Rather, we have each let the relationships with the kids develop in a natural way. So, step-parent has become more friend-advisor to which all the kids have responded splendidly. In fact, by doing this I think we are sometimes more accessible than the biological parent. Caitlin, for instance, knows that she can tell anything to Rebecca without being criticized. And likewise for Stephen and me."

Rebecca points out that each of the kids grew up with just one sibling, while Mike is amazed at how quickly things have changed for all of them. "Having a larger group of siblings has been really neat. When I explained to Andrew that Rebecca and I were thinking about getting married and that would mean he would have two brothers, his reply was, 'Wow, that would be neat. I never thought about having brothers before.' This was unique to Andrew since of the group he was the only one who had not had a brother. The other thing is the 'good-sized party.' Because all of the kids grew up within a mile of each other and went to the same high school they have many friends in common. During school holidays the house is almost always full with friends. The other thing is the new bonds that have formed among the siblings. They are all good friends but it turns out that Stephen and Caitlin are very similar in personality. And they have become pretty close in just the year and half that we've been together as a family. That's neat. And all of the kids have truly embraced their new step-parents. This has been special and maybe a bit unique for blended families. We are blessed."

This doesn't mean there aren't logistical issues. The family has yet to take a combined vacation because of the difficulties of managing the schedules of six grown-ups. Says student Michael McCormick, "We do have SIX cars at the house though whenever everyone is home for the holidays. We can have three in the garage and three on the driveway, although Andrew usually parks his truck next to the curb. I feel like we need an air-traffic controller to organize our parking logistics though. Mike and I have been heading off to work (an internship in my case) around 6:30 in the morning before only to find that we were barricaded in the garage by other cars. The unamused siblings, who were awoken hours before their desired hours, grumbled a bit while we retrieved their keys."

Michael also seems to sum up the feelings of his mom and Mike, stating "I am so thankful that my mom married Mike because this step family has been (and continues to be) such a blessing. Everyone in my family means so much to me and I can't wait to make more great memories with them."

Note: Caitlin was unavailable for comment. Her dad, Mike Masse noted on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, "And if you need to, send a search party out for Caitlin. She's still on campus....she's got an Animal Behavior class tomorrow."

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