For the last several days, I have been putting together a slide show for our oldest daughter’s graduation open house. As any parent who has put together such a collection of pictures will tell you, it’s quite the trip down memory lane. There are ooh’s and aah’s about how little and cute they used to be, how young you used to look, some ugh’s over why you chose that haircut or why no one told you your butt had gotten that big. There are some tears as you realize how quickly time has passed and project that forward to how quickly time will continue to pass.
When you are the stepparent this trip down memory lane is a little different. Or maybe it’s just when you’re a parent of a child with two sets of parents and two households, no matter if there is a step in front of that appellation.
Seemingly innocent pictures can bring back flashes of painful, frustrating, heartbreaking memories. That was the day we waited an hour for her mother at our assigned “switch” location and kept everyone waiting to open presents. I never could stand that outfit she sent her in. Those were the years when the clothes went back and forth in little suitcases. There’s that damn necklace that matched her mother’s that her mother insisted stay around her neck even when she slept. I remember tossing and turning the first night of that necklace, certain she’d strangle before morning. There’s the year her mother pierced her ears against her father’s wishes. How she cried when we had to turn them at night. And that haircut above her ears when her dad loved that long hair. And on and on.
There’s my scowl again at a family event because somebody was late at switch time or somebody said something nasty that was innocently repeated by a child. There’s my forehead with more lines, my eyes with more distance.
There’s my happy-go-lucky daughter whose eyes also become more guarded as I ranted about the tardiness and the nasty comments.
What a waste. I thought it at the time, but at the time I longed for her mother and father and I to be a team, working together to raise the children the best way we could. I could do it if only they would work with me by working together. I was not the problem.
We were all, mainly she and I, too immature and insecure for such a feat.
And here we are, in our forties, more lined, sadder eyes, wiser. Justice and what was fair seemed so important to me for all of those years. But it was justice and what was fair for me. I saw her as selfish, but didn’t see the log in my own eye. Either that or I wasn’t selfish enough to blow it all off and be happy because I deserved it.
I’m still processing my tortured trip down this particular memory lane, but two lessons stand out so far, beyond asking someone who will tell you the truth about the size of your behind to tell you how you really look in those jeans.
1) I’m sorry, baby, for making it harder than it needed to be. And that sorry extends outward to everyone involved.
2) If I could give any advice to new stepparents, it would be to breathe deep and let it all go. It’s not fair. For anybody. And you’re all going to behave badly. Don’t focus so much on the way you wish it were if only someone else would change that, when you’re looking back, you are left wishing it were the way it could have been if only you had accepted the way it is.
3) See? Even as I processed those two I realized another. Our parents are not perfect because they are still growing, too. I became a parent to a three and a one year old at 21. I was not a full-fledged adult and I put myself in a situation that required the wisdom of Yoda to negotiate successfully. So I’m going to take my own advice from #2 and accept that I did the best I could, even when I knew better, because that’s who I was at the time. And I’m going to do better for the next 17 years of her life. Or at least I’m going to continue to do my best.
She deserves nothing less.