I have nine children. Really. I tell people this, and then they look at me and say, “Seriously?” or “Really?” or “No – you’re kidding, right?”. I’m not kidding. I have nine kids. So then I usually launch into the explanation. My husband came with five kids already. He was a package deal. We had a biological child together. We adopted two of our foster children. We have a foster child who aged out of the system, but who never left. She’s just part of the family. Nine. So yes, that makes me a step-mother, biological mother, adoptive mother, and foster-mother.
Here’s how I learned to be a step-mother. I had a horrible step-father. I just did everything the opposite. I knew when I got married, that no matter how the kids felt about me, no matter what they thought about me, no matter if they wanted to completely shut me out of their lives or cut me out of their family photos, it didn’t matter. That was going to be their privilege. I had to always and forever make sure they knew they were part of MY family.
My step-father never made me feel as though I was part of his family. He didn’t want me to meet his family. I never met his brother, and I only met his sister because she came to our apartment a couple of times. He took my step-brother to France, but my mother never got to take my brother and me on any vacations, and the two of them never took us anywhere, either. He would constantly put my father down, and try to assert himself as the family patriarch. Even when my mother was around, he would assert himself and insist that HE was the disciplinarian. I remember once that he went absolutely ballistic because my father helped my brother with a little wooden car that he was making, because my step-father had started the project with him. I knew I couldn’t be that parent.
So, when we got married, I made every effort to be inclusive. Anyone who was with us when we went on vacations came on vacations, too. I tried to get as many family photos with all the kids as I could. I worked with my husband to maintain discipline in the house, but I never claimed “because I’m the mother” – because I wasn’t. I did play the “because I’m the adult and this is my house” card maybe once or twice.
I never demanded that they love me. They didn’t choose this. Their dad did. But here’s the thing – I love them. I do. Oh, sure, they make me crazy from time-to-time. So does my birth-daughter. All the kids do. I mean, kids do. Fortunately, they don’t all make me crazy at the same time. It’s theoretically possible that I make them crazy from time-to-time, too. Although, much like Mary Poppins, I am practically perfect in every way. Sure I am.
Have I been a perfect step-mother/birth mother/foster mother/adoptive mother? Oh, probably not, but I’ve been the best one I could be. And that’s been good enough, I think.
So then, Don got sick. Really sick. At first we didn’t know how sick. There was the bit where I didn’t realize he hadn’t told anyone that he was going in for a test so I posted on Facebook from the hospital that I was waiting for him to get out of this test. Yeah, the kids were a tad alarmed at that. Really, though, I thought he told them. So after that I checked. But I digress. Don got sick. The kids all stepped up to the plate. One daughter started bringing dinner over just about once a week. Things like that. Things that you do for your Dad when he’s sick.
He got really sick, and we stayed in constant contact. Kids were always coming by the hospital. And also bringing food to me. And running errands.
And then Don died. We knew it was coming. We talked about his decisions. Almost everyone was there at the end.
Then there was the memorial service and burial to plan. We talked. We figured out who would speak. We got together and went through old pictures. All these things had to be done. But now they are.
The older kids – my step-children – are not obliged to keep me in their family. They don’t owe me. I am forever and always obliged (even beyond that I love them) to keep them in mine, but that is really a one-way obligation. Nevertheless, nothing in that regard has changed. I am still included in everything. That alone means so much to me, but there is so much more.
These wonderful children (who are grown-ups, but, you know), have continued to look after me. They call or check in just to see how I’m doing. They lost their dad – I’m not the only one who’s lost someone here. They’re sticking together and taking care of one another, but they’re taking care of me, too. All of them.
One of my sons wanted to borrow Don’s car (this would now be my second car that I’ve mostly given to 20-year-old, but it’s still in my name) while his was in the shop. Of course – please come and jump-start the battery, and then it’s yours for as long as you need it (ok, here’s an important aside – if you or someone you know ever has a long-term illness or for some other reason can’t drive his/her car for a while, go out, start it up, and drive it around the block a few times once-in-a-while. Otherwise, the battery will die). I knew he would take good care of it, and all I was expecting was that it would come back with some gasoline and possibly clean.
When he brought it back, he had added coolant, (after checking out the A/C), thoroughly cleaned the wipers, put the front bumper back in place (long boring story), washed the car, filled the tank, and made a list of the things that needed to be done, but that he couldn’t do. Oh – and he’d cleaned up the inside, too. He’d also noticed two teeny cracks in the windshield. I got those fixed today (and I’ll give a shoutout to Safelite in Arlington – nice job!). When I told the guy at the counter, he was a little more cynical – he said that my son would want to borrow the car again. I told him I’d let him have it any time!
Now, part of that is that these are just really good kids. They are. All of them. Well, most of it is that they’re really good kids. I just hope they know how touched I am that they’re treating me like a mom.
I always knew I wanted kids. I had never imagined I would have so many. What I’ve discovered, especially in crisis, is that family bonds are like covalent bonds. Almost nothing can break them – because they share, and sharing (covalent) is stronger than stealing (ionic). So we’re a family, we’re sharing, and perhaps that’s making us stronger.
I don’t name my kids here (except Sean, because he’s deceased) because I don’t want to invade their privacy. It’s not my place. But they know who they are. And some of you know who they are. I love you kids. I love your husbands and your wife. I love your kids. I’m so glad you’re part of my family.
That’s my mite. It’s all I’ve got.