I came late to the mother party. I had always thought I would have children, but just didn’t meet the right guy. Then, when I was 37, I met Joe. He had two little boys; aged 8 and 4. It was a Christmas visit to “meet the family.” Not only did I meet Joe’s children, but also his parents, sister, cousins, nieces, nephew, aunts, uncles and their spouses. The ex-wife even managed, when dropping off the kids, to “need a drink of water” so that she could walk through the entire length of the house, just to ogle me.
To bribe the family into liking me (having the disadvantage of being a Texan from West Virginia among a group of Ohioans and Michiganders) I had prepared tins of fudge and cookies. The younger child came up to me, grabbed a piece of fudge and ran away. The older immediately sat down beside me to share his toys. Rather foolishly, I thought; “this is going to be easy.”
On weekend visits, in the beginning, I got along more with the older child. He was precocious, seemingly wise beyond his years. I felt like I could understand him better than his parents. I admit he had a special way of turning a situation to his advantage. But I didn’t mind, this was my opportunity to play “mom.”
After the kids moved in with us, I found out I couldn’t have children. A rather devastating thing to find out, even though by this time I was 40 – an age where pregnancy would have been difficult. So I concentrated on Joe’s kids, mainly the oldest child, who was having trouble in school.
We thought Texas would give him a fresh start. But his personality got the best of him. A popular kid, he was more interested in socializing than school work. Each year he would resolve that “this one will be different.” But after a couple months he’d decide it was too much work, too much trouble. And as the stepmother who had put so much effort into raising him, I took it personally – my own failure as a “mom.”
Last Spring there came a perfect storm. We had pushed and pushed — perhaps the wrong thing to do given the circumstances. But all our efforts had fallen on deaf ears. Personality traits and other issues combined with raging hormones. The sweet little 8-year old had been replaced by a young man who challenged every rule. And I, who had promised myself I would never become my mother, was disappointed that after all I had “invested” into this kid, he was on a path that would get worse before it got better. It all came to a head one day. He challenged his father. Things got ugly. And uglier. And the family was torn asunder.
Yesterday our family shared a meal for the first time in months. It was a celebration and a farewell. Now 18, the 8-year old who had shared his toys under the Christmas tree was moving back to Ohio. To find his own way in life.
A winemaker once told us that if a wine is not able to stand on its own as drinkable when first bottled, it would never be good. I have to hope the same is not true for children. That you do what you can to make them know they are loved. You instill in them the values you think they will need. And then you have to let them go. To age, perhaps mellow, but to grow into their own.
It’s a hard, hard thing to let go. Even when you start in the middle.