Gardners enjoy learning how to blend two families together

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 28, 2010

For David and Tammi Gardner, merging two families under one roof hasn’t been easy, but they wouldn’t have it any other way.

“We’re a big, happy, mixed up family,” Tammi said of David, daughters Cena, 13, Nella, 3, and stepdaughters Amy, 23, and LeeAnn, 19. “It’s not perfect, but it’s just about as close as I can imagine.”

Both divorced, David and Tammi married each other in 2004. Their careers led to their acquaintance — he as city engineer, she as director of the Natchez Downtown Development Association.

“We had a lunch bunch, and Tammi was in that group and so was I,” David said. “We had some friends that tried to put us together.

“I started asking, ‘Why is Tammi at these things that I’m doing?’ I was ignorant to what was going on. Then a friend said, ‘Duh!’”

“One time a friend of ours told Dave I was having a bad day,” Tammi said. “He took me to lunch and said, ‘I’m sorry you’re having a bad day.’ And I said, ‘I’m not having a bad day.’”

Then there was the time Tammi was invited out to Bowie’s Tavern by friends. David just happened to be there.

Their party was seated, then suddenly, half the party skipped out.

“They said, ‘We’ve got to go. David will take you home,” Tammi said. “That’s when we said, ‘OK, something’s going on!’”

David and Tammi dated for two years, and at their courtship’s start, their children’s reactions ran the gamut.

Cena, who was 6 years old at the time David and her mother began dating, gave her blessing. The reason — David had a cool car.

“I first met David when I was on the Little Angels dance team at Trinity and he came to one of my games,” Cena said. “He drove a BMW, and it beeped.”

David’s daughter LeeAnn wasn’t as easy to convince.

David took Tammi to an Adams County Christian School football game to watch LeeAnn cheerlead. LeeAnn’s friends soon began questioning her about the lady with her Daddy.

LeeAnn didn’t have an answer for them, so she decided to investigate.

“She had to leave the field and come up the stands,” David said. “She came and sat on my lap. It was like, ‘This is my Dad. This is my territory.’”

“I wasn’t so sure that day,” LeeAnn remembers. “It was weird just because my Dad never dated before. I never knew anything besides my mom and dad together.

“But after a while I got used to the fact he liked Tammi, and I really liked Tammi after having her around for a while.”

Amy, then a junior in high school, also had to adjust to her father’s new relationship.

“I’ve always liked Tammi, but of course the teenager came out in me, and it was hard for me to get used to,” Amy said. “Both of my parents were dating at the time.”

David and Tammi married New Year’s Eve 2004 and refer to the day as “that party.” It was almost as if the nuptials never happened. Vows were exchanged and both went back to their separate lives in separate houses.

“I called Tammi one day and said, ‘Pack your bags, get your daughter, come live with me,’” David said. “And she went, ‘Oh, OK.’”

Adjusting to new living conditions proved difficult for the girls at first. Then in 2007, David and Tammi’s first child together, Nella, was born, and her debut marked a turning point in the family dynamic.

“It took Nella to bond them, to give them that common thread,” David said as Nella bounced through the family living room with her sippy cup in hand.

“At first, I couldn’t imagine having a baby sister, but as soon as we had Nella, everything just changed. It made us more of a family,” Amy said.

“Nella brought us together and continues to bring us together. She told Tammi not too long ago, ‘I just want my whole family here.’”

LeeAnn agrees.

“I absolutely adore Nella. She’s the best thing ever,” LeeAnn said. “I couldn’t see my life without Tammi, Cena and Nella.”

Cena said following Nella’s birth, LeeAnn and Amy came home from college more often, bringing the family even closer.

“Having two older sisters you didn’t have to begin with is really good,” Cena said. “And then there’s Nella … I like having two families.”

Being a part of a blended family — or any family for that matter — is not without hardship and compromise, David and Tammi said.

“This is not near as tough on the parents as it is with the kids,” David said. “When they’re home for the weekend they ask themselves, ‘Who do we spend our time with?’ Those are the kind of stresses they deal with.”

“Cena’s probably gone through the most change, sharing her mother with me and my children.”

Cena said she doesn’t mind sharing her mother at all. Sharing always pays off.

“David’s family is really nice and very welcoming,” Cena said. “I’ve never felt like I wasn’t one of their kids.”

For Tammi and her extended family, there is no distinction between the girls.

“I love his girls because they are his girls,” Tammi said as tears began to well up in her eyes. “I had no idea how much I really loved them. To me, there’s not a distinction between them.”

Whenever conflicts arise, David and Tammi said it’s important not to allow disagreements to fester.

“David is so good about getting a consensus,” Tammi said. “If there was a problem brewing, we’d have a family meeting. Everybody had their say, we compromised and we worked it out.

“We’ve definitely had our highs and lows as any family does, but at the end of the day we all love each other and we enjoy spending time together,” Amy said.

Now, David and Tammi have mastered the art of scheduling school events, games, holidays, birthdays, graduations and vacations with their ex-spouses and their own blended families. Not an easy task, but David and Tammi invite the challenge.

“We have three shifts at Christmas,” David said. “But that’s what you got to do.”