I haven't written about her. Mostly because she isn't my child. But she has been a part of my real life parenting for 21 years. It is still hard for me to believe that much time has passed. It is even harder to believe that we made it.
When I began seeing her father who was 30, she was four years old and I was 21. Her parents, strangers to me then, divorced when I was still in high school. It has always been funny to think that she was born the year I was a junior in high school.
The first time I met her was a weekend that she was with her father. They came to pick me up and we went out for an afternoon of shopping and pizza. I'm not sure that either of them even remember that afternoon. But I do.
It was terribly important to me that she like me. After all, she was Daddy's girl and if I was going to make it for the long haul - I would need to win her affections. I knew they were a joint package. If I wanted to be with him, I would also be with her. There were no other options.
After eating lunch, we were headed back to the car. Another car in the parking lot was sitting playing their radio very loudly. It was a good song. "Gonna Make You Sweat. (Everybody Dance Now.)" I started to dance in the parking lot. That has always been one of my favorite things to do. To break into a dance in a public place in the middle of nowhere...as teenagers we were famous for it. I grabbed Step-Daughter's hand and pulled her towards me to share the dance on the pavement.
She began giggling and dancing. Her eyes sweeping the parking lot briefly to see who may be watching. Her father watching from the car - laughing at the spontaneity and the possibility that these two girls might connect somehow. That perhaps there was a chance that a new family would emerge from one that had been broken.
We definitely had our ups and downs through the years. But to blame any of it on the fact that we were not blood-related would have been stupid. To have allowed the word "STEP" to have had any true significance would have been shameful. I don't know anyone with kids that doesn't clash with them at certain times in their relationships throughout their lives.
When Son #1 was born, she was eight years old. My husband brought her to the hospital and she climbed into the hospital bed with me to hold her new baby brother.
When Christmas or Easter vacations from school arrived, she would come to stay with me. We baked cookies, played Barbie's, fed the ducks at the park and watched Full House together. We carved pumpkins at Halloween and died eggs at Easter. She was part of my responsibility.
When it came to my cooking, she adored it. She would eat anything I made and always put in requests for her favorites. I remember feeling grateful for her when my own children would reject my cooking. As a teenager she would choose with whom she would spend a holiday meal based on if I was the one cooking or not. Over the years, she would ask me for recipes. I told her that when she married, my gift to her would be all of my family recipes that she loved written for her in a book. I am still waiting to be able to do that for her.
My husband and I attended her basketball and softball games and her choral concerts. I took her shopping each new season for new clothes and shoes. Even as I was having my own babies, I continued to incorporate her with my own chaotic children as much as I could. She would come to stay every other weekend. But as she got older her schedule was more filled and those weekends were harder to coordinate.
When my fourth child and only girl was born, Step-Daughter was fourteen years old. It was quite an age difference and a far cry from where we had been when the first was born. While pregnant with my daughter, my husband and I were careful to choose her name. We had named all three of our boys with the same first initial. But knowing it was a girl, I did not want Step-Daughter to feel left out and be the "odd initial" so we named Daughter with the same first initial as Step-Daughter. The boys were "M" and the girls were "C".
During her high school years, she eventually came to live with our family. We finished the basement that included a bed and bath for her. She would stay with us during the week and return to visit her mother on weekends. The first day she came to stay I told her, "This is my house. I have rules. You will follow them. I won't tolerate any disrespect. Do you think we can do this?" She agreed immediately.
For the most part, we got along. I know it was hard for her suddenly living with a large family with 4 younger siblings, a female parent who was a stay at home mother and her father living in the house. She was coming from a town home where her mother worked and she had one younger sibling from her mother who never remarried. She was used to being the person in charge. The babysitter. The one making dinner. But here in my home - she would just be a teenager expected to pick up her room, do her schoolwork and be in by curfew.
When it was time for her to graduate from high school, her mother began to plan a graduation party for her. But one evening Step-Daughter talked to me about her own Graduation plans. She asked me if I would please host her party. She planned her menu and asked if I would please be the one to do it. Though I knew her mother would be disappointed, I was happy to comply with her wishes.
I hosted my Step-Daughter's high school graduation party. I invited my husband's ex-wife's family into our home. They are an extremely large family - most of whom I had never met. All of her sisters and brothers, theirs spouses and children. My family was completely outnumbered. It was uncomfortable for me for sure. But sometimes we do things, even as difficult as they might be for the adults, for the sake of what's best for the children. During that party, there were several unkind statements made and certainly enough moments that made me want to run into my bedroom and hide. At that party, my husband's ex-wife's mother made a champagne toast to my husband and his ex-wife for their wonderful parenting over the years. Not a word of me was mentioned. But I held it together for her. And for my husband. Finally, my own grandmother spoke up. Raising her glass to me. For all that I had done over the years. The room half-heartedly lifted their glasses.
A StepMother gets a bad rap. For gosh sakes, look at Cinderella. And Sleeping Beauty and... well you see what I mean. The wicked stepmother is always the evil doer. But that is not the way it has to be. Even when others are trying to create that ficticious storyline, stepmothers can choose to rise above it.
After Step-Daughter transferred away to college two years later, she called me to take her shopping for her dorm. We drove to the school, went to lunch and shopped. All of our kids came along and we all wished her well as she began her life away from home.
Two years later she would graduate from their Business School with a degree in Finance. Again, we would all find a way to meet and attend a graduation luncheon in her honor.
Things have definitely changed since that time. Now a working woman and living on her own, we don't see her very often. But she calls nearly everyday.
She calls to complain about her job or when her heart has been broken. When she needs financial advice or an opinion about life. It's normal. Nothing "STEP" about it.
This past Christmas I had a great time shopping for her. I stocked her apartment with all of the necessities for entertaining. Party trays, platters, glasses, warmers, picks, charms...I set her up to have the parties and the food that she always appreciated I coordinated.
Here's the thing. I couldn't force anything. I couldn't set any expectations for what our relationship should be. I had to let the relationship develop naturally. I never tried to be something I wasn't and never tried to force her to feel something that she didn't. We took it all at face value. I did all of the things that I did, because I shared a common denominator with my Step-Daughter. She loved her father and so did I. For the sake of that love, we found a common bond and eventually found our own mutual love.
It all began 21 years ago in the parking lot of a pizza place when I extended my hand and invited her to dance. Perhaps if I had not done that, I would not have the fabulous family I do now.
I could not imagine the life I would have robbed myself...
Two myths must be shattered: that of the evil stepparent . . . and the myth of instant love, which places unrealistic demands on all members of the blended family. . . . Between the two opposing myths lies reality. The recognition of reality is, I believe, the most important step toward the building of a successful second family. ~Claire Berman