When I first met Joe’s younger child, he was only four years old. I was visiting Toledo, Ohio, for Christmas and we were at that “serious” point in the relationship when Dad lets the girlfriend meet the kids.
While Joe’s older son Alex, then eight, had no problem sitting down with me, showing me his toys and talking up a storm — the younger was more reserved. I had made fudge for Joe’s family and Jacob cautiously approached me, took a piece of fudge, and practically ran away.
During that time the kids lived with their mother — but they were with Joe for the holidays. Jacob was such a cute little thing, that at one point I picked him up and set him on my lap. He looked at me, a bit annoyed, and said matter-of-factly, “I’m not a cat!”
Fast forward to Christmas 2002, we picked the kids up on Christmas Eve, and they never went back to their mom’s. Suddenly I went from being their weekend buddy, to instant mom — while I was in law school.
I won’t tell you it was easy — because it wasn’t. Growing up as the older of two kids, I was already prejudiced against the younger kid, and I was hard on Jake. Everyone had always babied him — and I was determined not to follow that path. I didn’t want to raise a kid who was always waiting for someone else to do everything for him, fight his battles, and almost guarantee he could never take care of himself. So I pushed him to do things for himself, and I don’t think he liked me very much for it.
In Toledo, Jake was not a very happy kid. Who could blame him? We uprooted him from the only home he had ever known — such that it was, and he was angry, especially at me. Then we moved the kids halfway across the country to Houston, Texas, where people talked funny. Jake was used to my “talking funny,” compared to people from the Midwest. In fact, when he was just with us on the weekends, he had ended every visit with “Bah, Aymey!” (Bye, Amy) making fun of how I talked, even when he was five or six.
He was such a precocious little kid — sometimes seemingly wise beyond his years.
There was a turning point in my relationship with Jake. Joe and I had finally decided to get married. We had no money, whatsoever, at the time, because we both had lost our jobs. So the night of our wedding, instead of going on a honeymoon, we took Joe’s Mom and Dad, who were in town for the wedding, and the kids, to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo (HLSR). Since I was a volunteer on one of the HLSR committees, my volunteer badge got me and one guest in the door and we bought the other tickets. By this time Jake was 10. And while we were walking through the livestock area, past the chickens, goats, and pigs, Jake slipped his little hand in mind. I was a bit surprised, and a bit emotional, but did not say a thing. I just enjoyed the moment and the thought that the kid was no longer mad at me. Maybe he saw that I finally had planned to “stay” — not just with his Dad, but with him and his brother as well.
So now I wasn’t just Dad’s “girlfriend” I was a stepmother. Anyone who finds herself in that position knows it’s not an easy job. You have no real authority. You’re not their “mom” and you’ll never be their mom. They have a mother. You’re the stand in. The woman who raises them and takes care of them when they are sick. You fight their battles at school. You attend their events. You go to parent-teacher conferences. You take them school shopping and worry about them when they come home late. But you will never be Mom. Because they have a mom.
This year Jake turned 17. Now he has a girlfriend. I’m still volunteering with the rodeo. But this year I bought tickets for Jake and his girlfriend, dropped them off for the day, and went off to work — which is about 10 minutes away. I worked late, and then headed back to Reliant Center to pick them up.
But via the miracle of text messaging, Jake told me they weren’t quite ready to leave. Or more aptly, “Do we have to leave now?” I texted back,”Just come check in.” And waited for the kids to show up. A few minutes later, up walks Jake, looking like he was having the time of his life. He was holding his girlfriend’s hand.
I thought back to the first time I took him to the rodeo, and he slipped his little hand in mind. And for the first time, at nearly 50 years old, I no longer felt like a stepmother.
I felt like a Mom.
Happy Mothers Day!