When I was younger, people would ask how many children I had, I used to joke “Three…” (wait for it) “… that I know of.” *ba-dum-bum* Turns out the joke was on me though because I had two more kids I had yet to meet. My stepsons. I love that God has a sense of humor.
I was so nervous to meet the youngest one hoping he’d get along with my sons near in age to him. I kept thinking, “Please be weird like us.” Again, God does not disappoint. Weirdness abounded. Of course, they got along just fine. Kids are like that. That’s not to say they didn’t put me through some trials though.
After first meeting, I made hot dogs for a quick dinner when my soon-to-be stepson asked if I’d toast his bun like his mom always did. At the table, I served everyone and presented the special order to him. He gave me a funny look and asked why I’d made his food different, as if, I’d singled him out.
Another time, at his mother’s request, I picked him up from school. We were alone and he confided, his parents were still together and working things out. They didn’t want anyone else to know just yet. Considering his dad and I were dating for some time and his mom was about to follow her boyfriend across the country, that one totally threw me for a loop.
Once the hub and I got married, I learned the older teen-aged stepson was no walk in the park either, more like walking on eggshells. I did his laundry up until his mom told me to stop and then he really didn’t like me.
I would never have referred to them as my step sons except they sort of insisted on it in the way kids will say, “You’re not my real mom.” Whether implied or said out loud, they were sure to constantly remind me of it.
The hubs away on business called late one night. I had to leave the younger kids home alone to drive to the bad side of town and bail out the eldest from jail. Instead of thanking me, the boy complained I was making too big a deal of it. I was reminded. And even when the hubs was lucky enough to be home and experience first-hand having to leave Thanksgiving dinner early… two years in a row to rescue the wayward teen, I was reminded.
Whenever the younger one would say things like, “If you’d get another job you could buy me more stuff” as if I didn’t already feel bad enough for what I couldn’t give him, I was reminded. Or like the time he asked us to burn all of his belongings if anything should ever happen to him so his siblings wouldn’t get his things, I was reminded.
As the older boy told me he was too old to do chores. Those days were behind him. It was his siblings turn now to do all the work. I was reminded. Then, since he was so grown up, we told him he could just pay rent instead, to which he curtly informed us that any one of his friends would gladly let him stay with them for free. So he couch-surfed in protest while we continued to pay his bills (I’m not even kidding) for 5 years, which cost more than all the other kids combined. Lo and behold, I was reminded.
Every time I had to empty the litter box for the cat their mom temporarily left with us until it died of old age ten years later (even though I specifically let everyone know I was allergic to cats), I was reminded. And then to over-hear the younger boy tell his mom on the phone he was the one caring and cleaning up after her cat for her, I was reminded.
My stepsons were so different from the loving, generous man I married, I secretly wondered if either boy was blood-related until I saw those peculiar toes I’ve come to know so well. These two boys did not grow up swaddled in my arms or cuddling with me as toddlers. No I got to meet them around the ages of about 10 and 17. For all the parents who’ve ever accepted another’s child as your own, you’ll know what I mean when I say, they found a place in my heart and over time grew on me. We’re still growing.
Even though we don’t share DNA, we share an important relationship. We’re related by love. I never tried to replace their bio-mom. I only tried to fill the emptiness left by her absence. I didn’t try to substitute or stand in. I didn’t bad mouth. I did my best to keep my family together and include everyone equally. I didn’t know how to be a stepmom because I’d only ever been a mom.
I learned love requires sacrifice. Love is the opposite of selfishness. Love is actions speaking louder than words. Love is a choice. It means we have to forgive all the time. It’s not always easy to show love, especially to those who behave in unlovable ways. As step parents, we make the sometimes difficult choice to love, even when we don’t have to.
Today I see the men my stepsons have become and am proud to be their mom. I have five adult kids. My kids have kids of their own now. I’m a grandmother. And on life goes.
Now I joke: even though I didn’t give birth to my step sons, I did endure the labor.
That’s what real moms do.