This afternoon as I was driving to work, I started scanning the radio for something to listen to. Usually I listen to the oldies station (nothing like singing to the top of your lungs to Diana Ross and the Supremes) or I listen to talk radio (that means Rush Limbaugh because he’s the only voice on in the afternoons around here). However, I do listen to Steve Corbett when I get a chance and I watch CNN and Fox News on television. I teach American History and Political Science, I like to be able to present both sides of the argument.
Anyway, today I happened to stop on a new christian station (or maybe it’s just new to me) because the topic was about how to be a “smart stepmother”, the show was produced by Focus on the Family. I’m a stepmother so I was interested in what they had to say about overcoming the challenges of being a stepparent when you’re not quite sure of your role in your stepchild’s life. Anyway, as I listened to the different stories being related by the hosts, it took me back to when my husband and I first married and I became stepmother to his 9~year~old daughter…
Up until I met my husband, I hadn’t had much contact with children over the age of 4, so I was not prepared when my husband’s daughter came to our house for her first visit. I didn’t know what to say to her beyond “Hi” and I wasn’t sure if I should hug her, play dolls with her, comb her hair, etc. And my husband, bless him, wasn’t much help. Men are just different. For the first few days, she would just kind of stare at me or I’d see her peeping around corners at me, sometimes I’d turn around and she’d just be there. Right behind me. And she wouldn’t say a word. One day, I pulled my husband aside and said “Hey, talk to your kid, she’s freaking me out!” Later, after going through four more tweenage stalkings, I realized that all nine~year~olds are weird.
As the years passed, my stepdaughter and I settled into an awkward pattern of “hello~hug~ignore~hug~goodbye.” Then she hit her teens. On the one hand, I was deathly afraid of her and on the other hand, I felt like that 9~year~old kid peeping around corners at her. She totally fascinated me at that age but by then I had settled into that “stepmother” role: not mother not friend and not enemy. I was her father’s wife, mother of her stepsister, half~sisters and half~brother. I thought my chance at making a connection had ended.
Then she turned 18 and asked me to take her to get her belly button pierced. I was honored. I know, right? If it’s any consolation, by that time I’d had my belly button pierced twice, my nose done three times and I had a tattoo. I thought this was going to be the chance for us to bond. Yeah. No. She promptly put in her earphones and rode to the tattoo parlor in silence.
A few years later, when she found out she was pregnant, she texted me in the middle of the night and asked me what I wanted the baby to call me. Her mother and her boyfriend’s mother had already picked out names (because we’re all way to hip to be called “grandma”). I read the message over and over, tears streaming down my face. This girl that I had watched grow into a beautiful young woman was now shifting our relationship from stepmother to grandmother. I was touched beyond belief.
We have since celebrated the birth of our grandson and I have received numerous pictures, video clips, Facebook messages (yes, we are Facebook official ~ she sent me the request and I accepted it), etc with anecdotes about the kids.
But the final piece of acceptance came for me last year when my stepdaughter announced that she was getting married. Until then our relationship had been centered on the kids and our mutual love for them. Still I wasn’t sure of where I stood in her eyes. As far as I was concerned, she was as much my child as the four people living under my roof.
Then one night I received a text message from my daughter saying that she wished I could be there to help with the wedding plans, but since I couldn’t she’d send me pictures of everything. And she did… hairstyles, dresses, shoes, make up, etc. I felt so much a part of the wedding planning, even though I was in Pennsylvania and she was in Texas. I was even “included” at her bachelorette party ~ pictures, texts, phone calls, etc.
To this day I keep my phone beside my bed because I never know when I’ll be awoken by the gentle vibration of my daughter wanting to connect in the middle of the night.