One of the lowlights of my early years as a stepmom (my first year as an official stepmom, actually) came at bedtime. Our oldest son and daughter shared a room and slept in bunkbeds. They refused to use sheets because they slept in sleeping bags at their mother’s house. This drove me crazy. I remember actually saying to the four year old, “This just isn’t civilized.” You see where this is going. I was not seeing our children for the ages they were and I was letting my feelings about their mom (and she was not particularly helpful in the first year we were married) get in the way of my own common sense. My lowlight is not about the sleeping bags, however. It gets worse. One night, as my husband and I were going to our room to bed, we heard the kids talking behind their closed door. When we went in to see what was going on, our son was talking to his little sister, standing on tiptoe to see over the rail of the top bunk. He got in trouble for being out of bed and talking when they should be sleeping. His reply was, “she won’t stop saying that she misses mom.”
It was like a shot to the heart directly through my insecurity about my role. I can see that now, but all I felt at the time was how much it hurt. I did not think much of their mother or her actions toward them or us that year, but, as with the sleeping bags, I let all of that emotion get in the way of my seeing the situation through the eyes of the four year old. We had moved into a new house just before we got married. My title had changed and her mother’s behavior toward me and us had changed (for the worse). She was sleeping in a new room on the top bunk which, even though she had chosen it, must have been a little scary. Her dad told her to just go to sleep, that it was time for bed. We left the room and a few minutes later, heard them talking again. Replay, but this time I stepped in. “I know you miss your mom, but she’s not here,” I said. “I want my momma,” our daughter said in a babyish voice that was not normal for her. “I know, but she’s not here, so just go to sleep.” “I miss my momma,” she said again. “Well, daddy’s here and I’m here,” I said, trying to bring in the fact that she was not alone. “I want my momma.”
Every time like an arrow. I didn’t have this image then, but I do now. I felt like St. Sebastian.
“Well, she’s not here, so you’re going to have to just go to sleep,” I said, but this time the frustration was clear in my voice.
“Maybe she can call momma,” her brother said. He was now also using the babyish voice and he was seven. This pushed up my temperature.
“It’s too late to call your mother. She has daddy. She’s fine. Go to sleep.” And out I went. My husband came behind me, very quiet.
“She’s just four and she misses her mom.”
“Well, she’s going to have to get used to it.” This in a tone that said the conversation was over. My husband went back into the bedroom, murmured to the kids, and joined me in our room. The next morning, our son said his sister had cried herself to sleep.
Now I cannot think of that episode without absolutely cringing. Yes, her mother was a shit that year. Yes, her mother was making some choices that did not say her kids were her first priority (from my perspective) that year. But she was their mother and who do we all want when we’re feeling insecure? Our mommies. Why didn’t I let her call her mother? It wasn’t that late. I didn’t let her call because I didn’t want her mother to know that the kids missed her when they were with us. And I thought that having her dad and I was enough. I was the biggest shit and I wish heartily that I could relive that night. I deserved the name of wicked stepmother.
Why am I thinking of that night today? Not because it’s my scheduled day to self-flagellate about my stepmotherly sins. I’m thinking of that night because I am missing my mom (and my dad). I’m 39 years old and my parents are out of the country for two weeks. Their flight took off 15 minutes ago (if it left on time) and I miss them already. I don’t like that I won’t see them or that I can’t just pick up the phone and hear their voices. Why? I am close to my parents. But a big part, I think, is because, as I’m coming to feel my own aging process as I approach forty, I’m experiencing a heightened awareness of their aging process. All of which is making them ever dearer to me.
So thank goodness I don’t have a wicked stepmother who’s telling me that I have my husband, therefore I shouldn’t miss my parents or telling me that I can’t Facebook them because it’s too late. Luckily, at 39 years old, if anyone did try to tell me that, I’d give her the look, say something witty like, “Outta my way, bitch,” and make contact with my parents.
Sorry, baby, that I caused you a night of loneliness and crying yourself to sleep. I hope I’ve made up for some of that debt in the years since. And I’ll keep trying to make up for it in the years ahead of us.