"I often say to people when I show them pictures of our family that we are the new Norman Rockwell family," says Alexander Fischer-Oelschlaeger, a registered nurse from Rock Island, Illinois. These pictures, though, include two fathers, Alexander and Curtis, two mothers, Suzie and Mary, and two children, Elijah, eight, and Emilie, six, all engaged in one of their numerous family activities.
Alex's husband, Curtis Fischer-Oelschlaeger, director of choral activities for Rock Island's Rockridge School District, recalls this family's beginnings. "I did not know Suzie and Mary when the subject came up as I had just started dating Alex. He asked me what I thought about kids, and I told him I loved my niece, nephew, and teaching. He then explained that he was thinking about helping Suzie and Mary have a baby." Curtis adds that these four became very close. "They (Suzie and Mary) decided they wanted Alex and me to play a larger role in the kids' lives and that is how it started."
There was only one problem. Wives Mary and Suzie lived three hours away. "We were all aware of our living situations when we started, so it is something we continue to work on," Curtis explains, adding that meetings were easier when the children were pre-schoolers. "Weekdays were also options of spending time with them, but now it is limited to the weekends."
But these fathers have happily adjusted. "Curtis and Alex both have weekend schedules and obligations," says Suzie, a Financial Accounting Analyst, celebrating her twenty-fifth anniversary with the same company, "so they work around those obligations as best they can. I'm always amazed at what a crazy, hectic schedule they will have, but will still spend a day with the kids even though they could be resting or taking a break." Suzie adds that she and Mary also take Elijah and Emilie to Rock Island so the six of them can be together and that periodically, Alexander ("Daddy") and Curtis ("Papa") have the children by themselves. Mary, who works for Nationwide Insurance, adds, "It is good to have the support of Curtis ad Alex to provide feedback and an extended loving family for Elijah and Emilie."
The family vacations together too. "This can get a little crazy as any trip with six people would be," Suzie says, "but they have been very enjoyable. This is something we plan to keep doing in the future as schedules permit."
In spite of the distance, this family's experiences have all been positive. Suzie says that having Alexander and Curtis to bounce ideas off of is a definite plus. "We appreciate all the time they spend with the kids and all the things they do with the kids."
Due to the distance, the mothers are in charge of most activities, but when Curtis and Alex are in town they shuttle the children back and forth. "We, also, try to make it to as many of their events as possible," Alexander says, "school or outside of school." Curtis adds, "If there is a practice or a party on the weekend and we are there, Alex and I are more than willing to take the children to those."
Concerning individual time with the children, each adult plays a unique roll. Suzie explains that the children have really chosen their own activities, but the parents will also choose activities for them to try. "Eli really did not like sports," Suzie adds, "but loves competitive cheerleading. Emilie is enjoying soccer right now." They both like swimming, Suzie's forte. "I don't like sports and I don't know anything about competitive cheerleading," she says," but I love swimming and being by the water as much as they do."
Mary enjoys walking, biking, and nature and likes to be outside with them. "I like to kick the soccer ball with Emilie. I also like to read books to Elijah and Emilie. I also take them to the zoo and farmers' market quite often."
Curtis says his position as a music teacher has filtered into working with the children. "I am also involved in theater and both kids seem to really enjoy creating new plays and using their imaginations."
Genealogy enthusiast Alexander wants the children to know the importance of family. "Knowing where one comes from can help where we go and help with our life choices. We can learn from our history."
Having such an extensive family means an extensive family history for Elijah and Emilie. And it means a lot of extra love. "They have four parents that get along and have so much love to give," Alexander says. "The kids also have so much love from grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. By having such a big family, I believe Elijah and Emilie understand the importance of family."
The children get lots of love from family friends and acquaintances too, all of whom express happiness for this group. "As far as I know they are very supportive and accepting," Suzie says. "It's funny how when you decide to make decisions such as this, you really don't seek the approval of others. You do what is right for yourself. It has worked out for us and I think we have been very lucky."
"I think everyone that knows us well is used to our situation," Curtis says, "and they love to see the kids' pictures, to hear stories, and see them when they are in town." He adds that his parents travel to watch the children's activities and look forward to holidays together.
Alexander says, "The kids, Suzie, and Mary are loved/supported by mine and Curtis' family. My co-workers have been wonderful and love hearing about us. As I stated earlier, I tell people we are the new Norman Rockwell family."
But perhaps even more so than most families, this modern Normal Rockwell family has had no guidebook. "This has really been a learning experience for all of us," Curtis explains, "as we are really making up the rules as we go along. There is not a model for us to follow and we are just doing the best we can."
Their "best" appears to be fantastic, judging by the children's successes and healthy self-esteem. When asked what he wanted people to know about him, Elijah said it's that he's "awesome," and he has a lot of friends and he likes to play with them. He says it's "cool" to have four parents even though some people make fun.
And Emilie's comment, "I love my family!" seems to summarize the success these two moms and two dads have achieved.
Sarah Howery Hart is a California-based freelance magazine writer, and author of "Catch 'n Release: The Game," the first in her series of murder mysteries. Visit her website for further information: http://www.sarahhoweryhart.com