I'll never forget the day (nearly five years ago now) when The Oldest said, in a tone so like her mother's snide dismissiveness, "If you didn't want to be a stepmom, then you shouldn't have decided to marry a man with kids." It hurt. I felt blind-sided. I had no good answer. Instead, I sat for a second speechless and nonplussed, and then the conversation moved on. I didn't want to be a stepmom. I don't know if anybody ever wants to be a stepmom. So why did I become one?
As Christmas approaches once again, I find myself wondering, wandering in a liminal space. Asking myself how to teach children that realizing their own inner Santa Claus is infinitely more challenging than believing in some unlikely literal jolly-old-elf, and infinitely more rewarding. Asking myself where I belong, where we all belong, and how we belong to each other. Asking myself how I can tell the stories of my ancestors, pagan and Christian alike, to the children of my partner. What can I say that will be meaningful and relevant for them, that will share with them the "spirit of the season" that I have come to know and love and value? What will I say when they come singing, a penny for my thoughts?
Being a stepmom is like having to learn how to be bravely and joyfully wounded. How to be fiercely protective and graceful in your impotence all at the same time. It's having to be honest about your wounds, to learn how to teach by example what it's like to bear them courageously and lovingly — while at the same time fighting like hell to make sure the kids don't grow up with any deep wounds of their own, if you can possibly spare them. It's also learning to accept that they might grow up with wounds anyway, and they might think you're full of shit no matter what explanations you give them for the choices you made... if you're lucky enough to get them to listen at all. It's knowing that they might even be right, and you're making all the wrong choices. But you suck it up and have a little trust and try to practice some preemptive self-forgiveness.