Later this month, J and I will celebrate 10 years. This is a huge accomplishment in any marriage but especially ours. J and I got married, his second marriage, when I was 22, he was 30, and T and M were 5 and 3 respectively.
It is absolutely insane to me how much I thought I knew about life and love and parenting and how things were going to go 10 years ago. Naive much?
I rarely talk about my role as stepmom these days. I think it used to be much more a forefront thought in my mind, and now it’s just, “We have five kids.” I’ll elaborate more if people ask, saying names and ages and further explaining that the oldest two are my step kids. I still get the “ahh, I see” reaction from time to time from those who have their own assumptions and beliefs about stepmoms and stepkids and what that role may look like, but what’s funny is over time I’ve figured out and decided I don’t really care what other people’s perceptions are. I know what my role is. They know what my role is. Nothing else much matters.
I think that as negative as society and Hollywood paints the picture of step-mothering and ex-wives and divorce, there is also something sacred in the beauty of sharing children in this way. I think about this a lot, this sacredness, the gracious way in which their mom treats me in my role.
I’ve filled out a mountain of paperwork these last couple of months enrolling and re-enrolling and general paperwork. I was called and asked about an emergency contact I had listed. I always list T and M’s mom on my kids’ paperwork as a contact, and this person thought it was an error.
“Nope, that’s right,” I said.
“Well that’s generous of you,” she said and we hung up. The words hung in the air afterward and I couldn’t help but think it wasn’t generous of me at all. If anything, generosity has been extended to me time and time again.
I am often jealous of these tight knit families with family that will swoop in and take care of things in a moment. Families who never have to worry or make a page worth of phone calls or texts to arrange childcare, grandparents who provide after school care and the ability to say, “Grandma will be there today for lunch at school.” I’m sure in some twisted way it’s unsettled grief I have from losing my mom. It is always there just below the surface, and as I’ve said a few hundred times over, I’m the wrong person to complain to about your grandparent issues.
But I take comfort in the family we create. I consider T and M’s mom and her husband a part of my family. We can text back and forth laughing about one of the kids’ inability to ever get their laundry to the laundry room and virtual high-five when one accomplishes something seemingly simple but huge to us. If you’ve ever seen my littles around T and M’s mom and stepdad, you’d notice that Miss E gravitates to L, looking for mints, and always has to go potty when we arrive at her house if only to pet the dogs and do a quick run through the house.
Do we do things wrong and have misunderstandings? Sure, don’t most families? We will never claim perfection, for we are all wobbly knees and stumbling as we go along the path of life.
While T and M will remember little of their life before this one, H, E and now F will know nothing besides this. T and M come and then they go, and when they are gone, my littles will ask each day when they will return, because they know nothing else but to love them and to miss them.
My role as a parent began as a stepmom, a mom to someone else’s children. I’m fairly certain I didn’t understand the complexities of what that meant until I had my own children, and once I did I was overwhelmed with gratitude because I’ve been given a lot more grace than I think I’d ever have been able to give.
My mother-in-law likes to give us piles of photos she stumbles across from time to time. There is a lot of laughing that comes of this and lots of pics taken of pics as we text back and forth the ridiculousness. The last batch of photos, shoved and battered together in a giant ziploc bag, came with former wedding photos and baby pics of both T and M. T’s first birthday and big smiles for all. It was another life, a different time, before all of this and then some.
Today someone shared with me this excerpt from last year’s Listen to Your Mother show in Indiana from stepmom Brenda Watterson, and it reminded me of the most recent ziploc of photos and how I feel about the privilege of helping raise someone else’s children.
“Being these were happier times in their marriage, she probably never envisioned being separated from her babies for nearly half of their childhood. I felt my admiration go deeper as she never expressed jealousy or resentment for their time spent with me, even if that meant time away from her. I honestly don’t know if tables were turned if I could be so generous.” —Brenda Watterson
I couldn’t have said it better myself.