Mother Number Three

Photo courtesy of Brett Loves Elle Photography
Photo courtesy of Brett Loves Elle Photography

You didn’t need another mother. You already had two – a birth mother and an adoptive mother.

Last year, I became Mother Number Three, your stepmother.

At first, I thought perhaps I should be like an auntie.

I quickly realized you needed me to be a stepmother. You wanted and needed my love.

For me, it meant loving you in a way that’s extremely close to the way I love my biological children and yet different because we have a relationship that’s rooted solely through love, and not determined by blood or by legal papers.

I grew and stretched and tried to step it up as a mother. I became more patient. I listened. I observed and held my tongue.

Some have written me off as a sort of Disney villain, like an evil stepmother. I’ve been accused of masquerading as a mother to a child who isn’t hers.

They’re right. I didn’t give birth to you, and I didn’t legally adopt you, but I do get to be a part of your life, and I consider it an honor.

I wanted three children, and by anyone’s standards – even my own – I was incredibly blessed to have a son and a daughter. Physically, I couldn’t have one more, and then, I was a single mother, so that third child just looked like it was never going to come.

And now, I have the privilege of cleaning your hair out of the bathroom sink. I stock blueberries in the freezer because I know how much you like them. I tuck you in and give you a kiss goodnight, just like I do with your brother and sister.

After my goofy wave when you spot me in the crowd at performances, I look down or hide behind the person in front of me so you won’t see the happy tears in my eyes and mess up whatever you’re doing.

Yes, I am your mother, too.

A few months ago, you practiced blowing through the mouthpiece of the cornet my own mother bought me when I was in the fifth grade. (It’s essentially like making a circle with your thumb and pointer finger, placing it over your pressed together lips, and blowing.)

Toot-toot-toooooooooooooot.

Glamorous, it is not, but it sounded like sweet, simple beginnings of music to me.

You practiced a few short songs that day. Hot Cross Buns was last.

“Great job,” I said.

You smiled, and then to my horror, pointed to the next requirement on your assignment sheet: the parent signature.

My mouth dropped open, and – I can’t make this up – I looked around for help, but there was none to be found. Your dad was at the grocery store.

I cannot sign off on surgeries, I panicked silently. I cannot register you for school. I cannot … who am I kidding?! This isn’t a major medical decision, this is a homework assignment.

You pointed again, looking me in the eye, smiling and waiting.

You were so confident that I should do it. And so I did.

I’ve never done something quite so bold. A close runner-up was the one time I greeted you first when you got out of the pool at a swim meet last summer. I waited until your adoptive mother finished taking her video, and then I swooped in and congratulated you.

Gasp! Who does she think she is?!

I’m sure that in the coming years, naysayers will continue to correct me, and add the word, “step,” when I refer to your brother and sister.

It sounds to me as if they are saying, “step” means “not for real.”

I grew up with a half-brother. I call him my brother. He is the only brother I have.

It isn’t easy to gain your footing on the “steps” that are part of a blended family. No one is flawless. We are all trying to do the best we can.

Now that we are a family, what those who say nay may not realize is that you aren’t an only child anymore. My biological daughter isn’t my only daughter anymore. My biological son is still the baby of the family, and he’s happy to maintain that title.

You very much have one brother and one sister that require all of you at times to take seven-minute-or-less showers so that the others won’t get cold water.

We’ve jokingly referred to needing a stepparent name in our home. I suggested “Pops” at lunch recently. I wondered aloud if that would make me “Mops.”

We all laughed.

“Ma” and “Pa” didn’t seem to fit us, either.

At times, when you’re doing something really ordinary, like scratching your head – a nervous habit that you once tried to break to earn a Girl Scout badge – I think of your birth mother and wonder if she’s thinking of you right then.

You probably wouldn’t call her mother either, I think, even though she is.

I won’t apologize for being your Mother Number Three. I’m starting to get my footing, and I’ve realized there’s no need to sidestep around it.

I didn’t see you first, or second.

But I am your mother, too. And I love you.

  2 comments for “Mother Number Three

  1. Joe Ann Wood
    May 8, 2016 at 9:45 am

    This is seriously lovely. It made me smile. It made my heart sing. It made me cry.

    • May 8, 2016 at 11:56 am

      Thank you, Joe Ann! I felt all of those things while writing it at my kitchen table.

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