• Sage Cohen

Family is the Story We Tell

We are a five-person family in two homes.



Darcy texts to tell me she hears Grace in her crib singing, “Are you sleeping, are you sleeping, Auntie Sage?”

Grace is my son’s sister, my co-parent’s daughter. Darcy is my son’s stepmother, Grace’s mother.

I technically have no part in my son’s other family. But the story we tell is different. Our collective love of our son—and then his sister when she came along—is the sun around which our family revolves.

I wanted two children and I had one. I wanted a daughter, and I am not going to have one. We all have our ideas about what will make us happy. And then we live the astonishing lives we are given.

Today Grace, in her home and her bed across town from my own, is thinking about me, singing about me, sending me a lullaby through her mother, my least expected and most hard-earned ally.


When Happily Ever After collapses, the cultural imprint seems to be Miserably Ever After: you love someone and then you hate them, and everyone suffers forever after, especially the kids.


A live storytelling teacher once insisted that I call what happened in my marriage “abuse,” when I called it “learning.” I quit the class.

A features editor said I had to expose the event that ended our marriage, and my refusal was unpublishable.

A therapist told me when Grace was born that I was not allowed to know or love her. “You can go with your son to her birthday parties if you must, but that’s it,” he advised during the last appointment we ever had.


I’m not sure why others seem to prefer that I stab myself with the shards of what once was. I did that, for a time. And now I don’t. Today, I make a mosaic of the broken parts. At the center is my son at bedtime saying how grateful he is for his sister. At the center is a three-year-old across town singing songs to her Auntie Sage.

We are a five-person family in two homes. We drive the soccer gear back and forth, negotiate the minutia of pick-ups and drop-offs, host sleepovers and birthday parties, belt out karaoke with our spatula “microphones” first before my son can read the lyrics, and then long after.

Our system is planetary. We are both fixed and in motion around each other. All of us learning new words, new ways, new songs that include us.

Identity is a story. Family is a story.

No one can tell me how I should hurt or how I will heal.

I love Grace, and Grace loves me. I love her father and her mother, and they love me. This is a choice we each make and practice every day.

This is how much a family can hold.


Sage Cohen is the author of Fierce on the Page from Writer’s Digest Books and three other books. She shares insight and inspiration with a global community of writers at sagecohen.com.


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