Come Together


Maddy Slaughter

Four car doors slammed as junior Brock Smith plugged his phone into the aux. “Ram Ranch” by Grant MacDonald, their usual morning pump-up song blasted through his speakers as he started his Honda Accord and headed for school.

Freshman Ella Smith yelled at Brock for leaving too late. Junior Byers Waldo assured her they would make it on time. Freshman Mitch Waldo had forgotten his MacBook, again.

It was just another morning for the Smith-Waldo’s.

“Those are fun mornings,” Ella said. “Going to school, us hopping into his little Honda. I feel like that’s a big piece in our lives. We make good memories off tiny little things.”

Ten years prior, rides to school didn’t look the same. In June 2009, Tina Smith met Lance Waldo at a happy hour her friend invited her to when she was visiting Kansas City. She walked into the room, saw him, and they got to talking. They started dating the same evening. The next day she brought Ella and Brock to meet Mitch and Byers, the four kids didn’t think anything of it. They thought it was just another playdate. 

With the Smiths living in Portland and the Waldos living in Prairie Village, they had to make long distance work. Tina and Lance added to their frequent flyer miles and switched off visiting each other every other weekend. They also had a two-week family trip with all the kids every summer. Finally after two years, the Smiths packed up their stuff and moved to Prairie Village. 

And just like that, the four kids were rushed into a new life full of shared car rides and big family dinners every Sunday night. 

Ella and Brock joined Mitch and Byers at Prairie Elementary. Ella and Brock went to having their own rooms to sharing a yellow room, the walls decorated with family photos and blocks that spelled their names. Mitch and Brock had to get used to sharing their house with three new people. 

But as time went on, each one adjusted differently to their new normal. The boys started playing two-on-one basketball together in the driveway after school and would switch off who would be the one. 

“They were so young that it was probably easier for them than doing it when they were in junior high,” Tina said. “There’s not much sibling rivalry because they get along and because they’ve grown up together. I have friends who’ve merged their families when they were in junior high and they never really became close.” 

Tina and Lance got engaged two years after they started living together, said their vows in their backyard and the kids were officially step-siblings. Step-siblings wasn’t a term they liked to use. They were siblings. And they were best friends. 

“We’re all best friends,” Ella said. “We do get in sibling fights, but we all just laugh about it. We’re really close.”

Brock and Byers shared the same friend group, and went to games and parties together. Ella and Mitch helped each other with english homework if one of them missed school. All the siblings looked out for one another. They all loved their family trips to Colorado, which they took when all six of their schedules lined up. 

“Our family trips are awesome,” Mitch said. “It’s not even like a family trip, it’s like going with my friends which is fun.”

When Brock pulled into his spot, he quickly turned his car off, and the four kids jumped out and speed-walked into the school. As they went in together, they talked about what tests they had that day and where they wanted to go get food after school. 

Their relationship went from nonexistent, to four kids, all going to the same school, best friends. 

“Sometimes people say ‘well you’re a blended family,’” Tina said. “But a blended family is a real family.”