Sunday was Mother's day. A few years ago, I posted about how it feels for me to be a stepmom on this day. It's challenging, sometimes difficult, sometimes lonely. If I'm not careful, I can tumble right into a big case of the blahs.
The first year I was a stepmom on Mother's Day was probably the hardest. The Hub and my romance was a hyperspeed one and by the time Mother's Day rolled around we had only been together a handful of months - a few of them married. As his wife, I was experiencing motherhood for the first time by parenting his child. I was trying desperately to figure out my place in The Kid's life and what I could offer her as a "secondary mother." Those were tough months. It was difficult for The Hub to understand. He tried but just couldn't get his arms around it. He and his ex-wife had (and still have) a wonderful relationship. They were kind and giving to each other. They spoke often. They consulted each other on important matters and when it came to The Kid - they worked seamlessly together.
I often felt left out.
When I was in 6th grade, I went to basketball camp at Taylor University. It was a weeklong camp and I had to raise the ungodly sum of 300 dollars in order to go. I did various jobs around our farm and around town in friends' homes and farms to gather the money. One of the worst jobs I did was picking up rocks out of my 6th grade math teacher's yard to earn a few bucks. Mr. Brimberry was a good man and he paid me way more than I rightfully earned - but the work truly sucked. I was down on my knees in his pitiful, scratchy yard, gathering up every rock I could find, down to the gnat-sized pebbles that would earn me a few extra pennies. It was hard work. It was probably the worst of all the lousy chores around town there was to do. But I did it, and I earned the money.
Camp was great. We practiced daily, ran sprints, ran drills, scrimmaged. We learned from top coaches and got one-on-one attention. We were shoved into teams the first day with girls from around the country. Doing so meant you were forced to make new friends. And I certainly did. I quickly made friends with two other girls, Becky and Amy – who everyone called "Smiley". They were from Ohio, I think, and although they didn't know each other before they got to camp, they did meet the day before, at orientation. It took all of 10 seconds for the three of us to bond. We walked to and from the gym together. We sat next to each other in the bleachers during lectures. We ate together in the dining commons. Occasionally, one of them would reference something about Ohio, or the long drive they had to get to camp, or how they met in orientation. When this would happen, I would listen and ask questions and quietly look for a way back into the conversation. It wouldn't take long. Soon enough, the three of us would be back in conversation and all was right in the world.
Then Thursday came and everything changed. I don't know now, and didn't know then why things changed so radically. Everything started the same. Everything seemed normal at first. I walked into the gym Thursday morning as I did every morning and sat down next to my friends. They had arrived before me. Their dorm was closer to the gym than mine was. As I sat, I smiled. I said "Hi" ...and they both said...
Nothing. Not a word.
They were sitting cross-legged on the floor of the basketball court, staring forward and they said nothing.
I sat. I waited. My mind was a wobbly top barely staying on its end ... I didn't know what to do. I asked a generic question to them both. Asked when they got to the gym. Becky, who sat farther away from me, said coolly, "A while ago" but she didn't look at me. I ventured another question to Smiley. "Do you know when we are starting?" I said. She said nothing, again. Instead she shrugged - gave the standard "I dunno" roll of the eyes and kept looking forward. In a final attempt, I leaned in and said to her in a sing-song manner "Hey! You're not smiling!" And she huffed, turned her head to me and said with all the disgust she could muster, "So?" And then scooted over toward her friend.
Heartbroken, embarrassed, ashamed, alone. All I could think of was, it was so not worth picking up those rocks for this.
Clearly, I was out.
When The Hub and I first married, when I would experience the relationship he and The Kid's mom had, when I would hear him or The Kid talk to or talk about her, when I would listen to them share little stories about where they used to live or the car that would never start or the night The Kid was born, I would panic inside. One part of me loved the fact that theirs was such a healthy, rich relationship, that it was a really good Plan B, that they had each other's backs and that they could always come together and make good decisions about The Kid. But another part of me, a very deep, lonely part of me, was always secretly afraid of their relationship, of doing something and for no known reason, suddenly being out.
And as my first mother's day approached, this feeling, this panic, grew.
I'd like to say I worried for nothing. I'd like to say I awoke to a giant card and breakfast in bed. I'd like to say it was a wonderful day. I'd like to. I can't. Truth is, it was a difficult day. Many circumstances factored into it being difficult. We were away from home, The Hub's own mother passed away unexpectedly the week before, we were newly married and I was meeting many members of his extended family for the first time. We were a jumble of emotion, for sure. As much as I tried not to think about me that day, as many times as I told myself it didn't matter if anyone acknowledged me on that day or not, as much as I tried to focus on the positive and not on the fact that no one wished me a happy day, it was a very hard day indeed.
And in spite of my best effort, I spent a good bit of time feeling downright sorry for myself.
Ugh. I hate even typing it. Looking back, I'm not proud of those feelings. Looking back I wish I wouldn't have been so freaking tied up in what I thought I needed or deserved. Looking back I still wish I had breakfast in bed. Well, what can I say? I'm not perfect.
I've since thought so much about that day. About the feelings I had when The Hub and I first married. About how desperate I was to prove I was good enough and smart enough and deserved a place in The Hub's life and in The Kid's life. It's just so nothing like what I feel now. I can remember those feelings but I haven't felt them for a long, long time. I've thought about when it all changed. I've thought about when it went from being a challenge to being almost easy. When hearing from The Kid's mom became a fun occasion and not a something that sent me reeling. When talking on the phone and sharing ideas and emails and thoughts with The Hub's ex-wife became something I looked forward to and not something that scared me or caused me worry.
It changed the day I stopped focusing on myself.
At that basketball camp, I got my first real-life lesson in this concept. The concept my grandmother had been trying to teach me for years. "You don't need to focus on yourself all the time," she would say, "think about someone else when you're sad ... your life isn't so bad." On that Thursday, as I realized my world has shifted, and as I sat there feeling quite sorry for myself, I remembered that lesson my grandmother had been trying to teach me since birth. I remember her telling me, "Whenever I'm somewhere and I'm feeling left out, I just look for someone who is feeling worse than I am and I go and try to make them feel better!" And that's exactly what I did. I got up. I walked across the gym. I found a girl sitting by herself and plopped my behind down next to her and introduced myself. In about 10 minutes, we were both feeling much, much better.
I'd like to say I've never forgotten that lesson. I'd like to say it was burned so deeply into my core I never had to be taught it again. I'd like to say it, but you know me well enough by now to know that of course, it didn't happen that way. Thankfully, however, the world is full of 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 247th chances to learn the same lessons again. And somewhere along the step-mom highway, I decided to stop focusing on myself and what I need and want and how hard this all is for me and instead, I focus on the other people in our family ... The Kid's mom, The Kid's step-dad, The Hub ... and how hard it could be for them. It was a small change. But it mattered. It changed my attitude. And, as if almost by magic, I no longer cared if I got a card from The Hub or a call from The Kid on Mother's Day. It didn't matter so much to me anymore that no one acknowledged me on this day. What mattered was that I was in a family who loved and cared about each other.
People often ask me about the relationship I have with The Kid's mom. They don't understand it. They think it is weird that we know so much about each other and our families are so intertwined that when one of us needs help we can rely on the other one. People think I'm crazy when I tell them about how when I go to see The Kid, I stay with her, in her room at her mom's and step-dad's house. They think we're nuts when we talk about THEIR family members as if they are OUR family members. People ask me, how do you DO it?
And I guess my answer is, we work at it.
It's not easy being a step-mom.
And, more important,
It's not easy being a mom with a kid who has a step-mom.
Final note on this one … Sunday I woke up to an email. It said in capital letters, HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY! in the subject line. The body of the email said what a great step-mom I am and how obvious it is that I love The Kid and how much I've brought to The Kid's life. It said what a great role model I am. It acknowledged how hard it must be at times for me and how special I am. It said every delicious and heart-warming thing I've ever wanted to hear on Mother's Day.
It was from The Kid's mom.
Picking up those rocks in Mr. Brimberry's yard was so worth it.