Any Other Family

Any Other Family

by Eleanor Brown
Any Other Family

Any Other Family

by Eleanor Brown


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Listen to Eleanor Brown in conversation about Any Other Family on Poured Over: The B&N Podcast


A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice

The New York Times bestselling author of The Weird Sisters returns with a striking and intimate new novel about three very different adoptive mothers who face the impossible question: What makes a family?

Though they look like any other family, they aren’t one—not quite. They are three sets of parents who find themselves intertwined after adopting four biological siblings, having committed to keeping the children as connected as possible.

At the heart of the family, the adoptive mothers grapple to define themselves and their new roles. Tabitha, who adopted the twins, crowns herself planner of the group, responsible for endless playdates and holidays, determined to create a perfect happy family. Quiet and steady Ginger, single mother to the eldest daughter, is wary of the way these complicated not-fully-family relationships test her long held boundaries. And Elizabeth, still reeling from rounds of failed IVF, is terrified that her unhappiness after adopting a newborn means she was not meant to be a mother at all.

As they set out on their first family vacation, all three are pushed into uncomfortably close quarters. And when they receive a call from their children’s birth mother announcing she is pregnant again, the delicate bonds the women are struggling to form threaten to collapse as they each must consider how a family is found and formed.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780593328545
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 07/12/2022
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 1,065,168
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Eleanor Brown is the New York Times bestselling author of the novels The Weird Sisters and The Light of Paris, and the editor of the anthology A Paris All Your Own. An adoptive mother herself, Eleanor lives with her family in Colorado.

Read an Excerpt

They look like any other family. A real one: cousins, siblings, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters. They look like any other family with a past, with shared stories and traditions and jokes, memories of childhood summers and hundreds of holidays, carrying old wounds and the echoes of kept and broken promises.

But they are not like any other family, not exactly.

Does that mean they are not a family at all? Each of them stumbles over the word occasionally, searching for the right labels to explain their relationships to outsiders, never feeling quite understood, not quite certain themselves of what the right term for this is.
Still, that name, family, is as close as they have found. They are a family, formed by three sets of parents who adopted from the same group of biological siblings.

Once upon a time, there were three children: Phoebe, the eldest at five, and the twins, not-quite-toddlers. When their grandmother, who had been raising them, died, there was no one else to turn to. Their mother, Brianna, had been so young when she had them, was more like a sibling to them than a parent, and was no more prepared to care for them now than she had been when they were born.

As the social workers began casting about for options – fostering? adoption? – little Phoebe took her own destiny in hand and asked to live with Ginger. This was a surprise to everyone, most of all Ginger herself, whose only connection to Phoebe was her volunteer work in Phoebe’s kindergarten class as a reading tutor. But she had fallen for Phoebe in the same way the child had fallen for her, and she was happy to open her home.

Tabitha and Perry, who had married later in life and were hoping to build their family through adoption, were asked if they would care for the twins, busy and curious and energetic, an exhausting joy. They had just completed their home study and were surprised but delighted to have Tate and Taylor come home with them so quickly.
Splitting up siblings who got along so very well and had already lost so very much was generally seen as a less than ideal arrangement, but when Tabitha suggested a new way of thinking of it: the children living in different houses but still raised as siblings, the social worker and the judge, and most importantly, Brianna, embraced the plan, and so they became one family and many families at the same time.

Tabitha has always loved the idea of this magical new thing they were making. It was what she had been dreaming of her entire lonely childhood and beyond: being part of a big, happy family. They all come together to celebrate birthdays with piñatas and cake in the backyard, to share gratitude at Thanksgiving, and to have dinner every Sunday night, including Brianna when she can make it.

Ginger, who came from a complicated family and escaped it as soon as humanly possible, likes this familial closeness rather less, even though she believes firmly, agrees entirely, that keeping the siblings as close as possible was the right thing for the children. She had never thought she would be a mother at all, and it couldn’t have happened any other way. Sometimes Ginger considers the millions of decisions leading her to exactly that place so she could catch Phoebe as she fell from the sky, and marvels at the happenstance that brought her this child.

It is only that, along with motherhood, she has also inherited a complete set of quasi-relatives, after spending her entire adulthood building a life of happy solitude. Sometimes Ginger feels as if she spends all her time going back and forth to Tabitha and Perry’s house (everything happens there, of course). When the parents were first working out the boundaries and rules of this tiny nation they were forging, they had committed to weekly family dinners and holidays together as their baseline. Now it seems to have grown far beyond that, especially since Violet arrived.

Ah, yes, Violet.

They had been this semi-family for four years when Brianna called Tabitha to say she was pregnant again. The children’s biological father had come back into Brianna’s life and she hoped this time, now that they were older, they might stay together, raise this child.

He had managed to stay until Brianna was seven months along and then"disappeared" as everyone else had known he would. The parents keep their mouths shut on the topic of Justin. He is, after all, the father of their children, but he is also nobody’s favorite person because he has broken Brianna and the children’s hearts too many times.

So there was Brianna, alone, twenty-four and pregnant again. She cried and told Tabitha she couldn’t do it, couldn’t parent this child, she absolutely couldn’t do it, what was she going to do?

And so came Elizabeth and John. They were young, or relatively so, having met in college, married immediately after, and then spent several painful years trying to have a child. When they adopted Violet, they went from the fog of fertility treatments straight into the fog of parenting a newborn. The adoption happened so quickly, and Violet was a colicky baby, angry and red-faced, for months that felt like years, an endless, stumbling routine of nighttime feedings. The colic has passed, but Elizabeth is still so tired, so overwhelmed, she hardly knows what happened.

All of which is to say that if anyone asks Elizabeth what she feels about their Very Special Family, she might look blank for a moment, as if trying to remember a distant acquaintance, then shrug.
Theirs is a strange way to become a family, each of the mothers has thought at some point, though how is it in any stranger than any other way people create families, based on things no more scientific than the accidents of genetics or a common interest in bowling or opera, or simply rather liking the look of someone on a particular Tuesday night? At least they have a purpose, a reason to stick together, a common cause: the children they love as much as any parent, maybe even more.

Because they are all committed to the children, to letting them be a family as much as they can be. After all, who gets to say what it means to be a family? There are no names for the relationships they have to each other. There is only this broad word they are shaping around themselves: family, even though they aren’t exactly a family, that word isn’t exactly true, isn’t exactly right.

At least not yet.

Tabitha said she would get the flowers herself, and then she had forgotten.
Well, of course she hadn't forgotten. Tabitha does not forget things. She keeps lists and she checks things off those lists and she follows up on things from the lists and at no point does she ever forget anything. But Perry has been on work calls all day, so she has been tending to the children, and now there are no flowers in the guest rooms, which is a small detail, she knows, but all perfect moments are composed of small details, are they not?
And she so wants this vacation to be perfect. She wants this to be the moment when their big, busy family truly becomes real, when she and Ginger and Elizabeth bond like sisters, when they create the moments where years from now they can ask, Remember when? and all laugh the way they had the first time it happened, or ask, Remember when? and look at how the children have grown and yearn happily for these days.
They do have some of these memories already, but they are never quite how Tabitha wants them to be, and even so, shouldn't there be more? There just never seems to be enough time. Ginger is always leaving early because they have so far to drive and she always has some reason the moms can't do a day out together, and poor Elizabeth always looks so overwhelmed and tired. Once, during Sunday dinner, she fell asleep at the dinner table and got risotto in her hair. But here, Ginger cannot leave, and Violet is getting older and sleeping through the night, so Elizabeth will get some rest, and Tabitha just loves playing with Violet anyway. It will be different this time.
There is a fizzy excitement in Tabitha's chest when she thinks about the next two weeks: the plans she has made, the adventures they will have on this summer vacation, the first of many wonderful trips together, a chance to make memories and become the happy family she has always known they can be. She and the twins have been up here in Aspen for a week already, and Perry flew up from Denver a few days ago, but finally it's Friday and the others are coming, and now the vacation can really start. Tabitha has planned bike tours and a hike to a waterfall and a horseback ride with a stop to go fishing and pancakes for breakfast and a moms' day at the spa-she can hardly remember everything on the schedule. It breaks her heart that Brianna can't take the time off from work to join them. Still, having the rest of them here will be wonderful. It is all going to be perfect.

If she could only figure out the flowers.

The twins, who have been swimming basically since they woke up, burst out of the pool like fireworks, sparks of water flying over the deck and onto the table where Tabitha is sitting. "Can we have popsicles?" they ask, crowding close to her. They have always been so physical, for which she is grateful. Sometimes it feels like they want to climb inside her, their desire to be close to her, to touch her, to sit in her lap and stroke her arms is so intense. They were already just over a year old when they came to her and Perry, and she had been so worried about attachment. But through a lucky combination of their sweetly clingy dispositions and her fierce devotion to motherhood, their connection is solid and loving, which gives her such a swelling of pride in her own mothering capabilities she would almost be ashamed for anyone else to find out. She gives them each a little squeeze, dropping a kiss on Taylor's forehead before he squirms away, enjoying the miracle of their existence.

The children smell of chlorine and leaves, and they are dripping wet, their hands pressing against her skin. Taylor's hair stands up in wild spikes; Tate's is pulled forward over her shoulder, where it drips steadily onto Tabitha's white capri pants

"Popsicles? It's not even noon!" Not that she would be likely to acquiesce even later in the day. They are scheduled to have s'mores tonight after everyone else arrives, but she can hardly tell them now or they'll be unbearable, begging for them all day. Even the promise of sugar turns them into monsters.

"It's summer!" Taylor argues. He still looks like a baby to her sometimes, his belly slightly convex, while Tate has fully leaned out, an inhale of girlhood before the exhale of adolescence, already so close Tabitha can feel it on her skin sometimes, looking at them and seeing the people they are going to become.

"As though good nutrition doesn't apply in summer. Besides, we don't have any popsicles," Tabitha says, which is true.

Then, as though the three of them have orchestrated the entire thing to make a fool of her, Perry steps through the sliding glass door, carelessly leaving it open behind him. "Who wants a popsicle?" he asks, waving a box of Bomb Pops, the top torn raggedly open. They must have been buried in the deep freezer in the garage, because if Tabitha had noticed them, she would have thrown them out immediately with all the other junk food.

Tabitha pushes air out between her teeth as the twins abandon her, running to their father. He takes one for himself and gives one to each of the kids, who quickly abandon the empty box on the steps and vault back into the pool, bounty in hand.

"There were only three left," he says, sitting down at the table beside her. "Want to share mine?" He peels back the wrapper, but the popsicle has freezer burn, and tiny shreds of white paper stick to the red portion at the top.

Tabitha glances over at the twins, but they are already eating theirs as they swim clumsily, one-armed. Probably eating the bleached paper along with whatever chemical horrors are in the popsicles themselves.

"Really, Perry," she says. She tries so hard to take care of the children, to give them every chance, and he just offers them sugar willy-nilly.

Perry, unconcerned, sticks his popsicle in his mouth and leans back. "It's vacation," he says, gripping the ice with his teeth as he talks.

He clasps his hands behind his head the way Taylor does when he finishes eating, stretching in pleasure. It delights her to see herself and Perry reflected in the twins. So much of them is like their grandmother, and so much of them is like Brianna. But they are also clearly her children, and Perry's, tiny mimics of their voices and movements and phrases she does not even realize she says so frequently until she hears them echoed.
"If it's vacation, are you done working?" she asks.
Perry nods and slurps at his popsicle, pulling it out of his mouth. His lips are already stained lurid red. "I've got another call in an hour, but that's it."
"But Ginger and Phoebe will be here in an hour!"
Perry shrugs and turns back to the twins and his popsicle, as though it doesn't matter when everyone else arrives, as though he isn't hosting, too. "It shouldn't take too long. Are you going somewhere? They can let themselves in."
Tabitha whistles air out between her teeth again, because obviously she is not just going to have her guests "let themselves in" like they are running a motel. "I just need to finish getting things ready. I want everything to be perfect." Anxiety pulls taut in her chest.

Perry reaches over and pats her leg in a way that manages to be both sweet and condescending. "I know you do. It will be. It always is. Everything you do is always perfect."

She gives him a tight smile because that isn't true. She leaves things undone or underdone all the time, but she doesn't want to argue, and he is watching Tate and Taylor play in the pool anyway, not even looking at her. When he pulls his hand away, she can see a pale blue spot where his thumb touched her white pants, a damp drop from the melting bottom of his popsicle. The children are probably dripping theirs in the pool, too.

"I'm going to go check the guest rooms," she says, trying to sound light again. She doesn't want to ruin things.

Perry turns to look at her. It is unfair how handsome he is, even with a silly rocket-shaped popsicle sticking out of his mouth, a drop of red dye on his chin. His dark hair is curly and uncombed, and he replaced his glasses frames recently with round tortoiseshell ones that she never would have picked but she has to admit give him a sexy professor look. He is wearing a linen shirt and cargo shorts (they are so awful that she had disposed of the previous pair, but Perry only assumed he'd misplaced them and bought new ones) and he looks deliciously like summer. She is so grateful for him, for the twins, for this family they have found themselves in.

Looking over at the pool in order to admire the children, she finds they have abandoned their stained popsicle sticks on the edge and now appear to be attempting to drown each other. As Taylor pounces on Tate, she dives down, her hair rising up and spreading out, splaying across the top like seaweed.

Perry turns and opens his mouth to stick out his tongue, which is a truly alarming shade of purple.

"Charming," she says. "Are you okay watching them?"

"Watching my own children? Yes, I can handle this assignment," Perry says.

In the laundry room, she finds a stain wipe and dabs cautiously at the blue mark Perry's thumb left. Now there is a wet spot, but it will dry. She doesn't have time to change. Hurrying upstairs, she checks the children's room, picking up the nightclothes they abandoned when they changed into their swimsuits that morning and placing them in the hamper, bringing bottles of water from the upstairs pantry into the guest rooms where Ginger and Elizabeth and John will sleep, and checking the closets for extra blankets.

The dryer buzzes, and she pulls out Tate's sheets and makes her bed. She feels, as she always does, a little twist of anxiety as she tucks the sheets in. Despite the fact that the twins are seven, Tate still wets the bed every night, and even has accidents during the day sometimes. It quite literally makes Tabitha's heart ache-she wants so much for their lives to be happy, easy, for the obstacles to be smoothed out of their way, but this particular problem seems impossible to solve, no matter what Tabitha does.

The doctors say it's no one's fault, but who else but their mother could possibly be at fault? In Tabitha's worst moments, she wonders if Tate would have these problems if her grandmother were still raising her, or if Brianna had chosen to parent. Because otherwise it must be something Tabitha has done, or not done. So every morning Tabitha strips Tate's bed and washes the sheets, and every few months she buys entirely new sheets, and every day she wonders, what is she doing so wrong?

The flowers! Hurrying downstairs, she pulls a couple of lowball glasses out of the cabinet in the butler's pantry. On the kitchen table is a gorgeous arrangement, a welcome compliments of the house's owners, that she put in a lovely Baxter & Motts vase she found in the butler's pantry. That will have to do. She picks out stems until she has two passable bouquets. They all match, as if she bought them at the grocery store, but she can't do anything about that now. Running back upstairs, she puts the glasses on the bedside tables in Ginger's and John and Elizabeth's rooms, brushing her hands on her pants and then looking down to make sure she hasn't smudged any pollen on them.

It is not perfect. But it is so very close.

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