It began on Mother’s Day. Well, it began long before that but Mother’s Day will suffice.
My two younger kids ran over to play at the neighbor’s house. My oldest, my daughter, was with her mom, being Mother’s Day and all, an odd situation for a stepmom. I get to miss one of my kids on Mother’s Day. I imagine it might be different for most steps, or at least the ones who differentiate between the kids they bore versus the kids that came into their lives but I’m an all-in mom.
I don’t have that edit. I’ve had to learn over the last ten years to back off sometimes, not an easy proposition for someone like me. But I do it because it makes my daughter’s life flow. If you’ve ever been a child of divorce or a parent in a divorce, flow will make sense. It’s the first thing to disappear as people argue over children as if they are property. They argue about money owed, time owed, who bought what when and whose turn it is this time around.
I’m lucky in that we work on flow. We try really hard to keep matters that are adult between the adults. What that means is sucking it up when you need to suck it up. I call it being a grown-up.
So my two youngest went over to the neighbor’s on Mother’s Day. We went for a run/bike/hike in the morning and then they went off to play with their friend who is two and loves them dearly, a couple of dogs and hang out with parents much more relaxed than their own.
Guilt. Mother’s guilt.
Memory engaged: When my daughter was five she got a new baby brother, the first of many. She also got a sleep-deprived stepmother. One day, she asked if she could go down the street to play with a girl that was never really a friend, but someone she really wanted to be a friend.
I peeked out the door, and waved to the mom sitting in the driveway, my newborn cradled in my arms as I prayed he would just go to sleep. I put the baby down in his stroller and pushed him around the house when in one of the very few times for that period, he did fall asleep.
I peered out the front window, just able to see the driveway down the street and I saw my stepdaughter walk over and sit in the neighbor mom’s lap. Now, this wasn’t a dear friend of mine, just an acquaintance. I knew her, felt comfortable with her so it wasn’t that. I stood by the window and cried.
My kid would rather walk down the street and sit in this other mom’s lap than be with me. Guilt. Pain. Ache.
I wanted to be that mom, the one who sat in the driveway as her kids ran around like nutters. Nothing phased her. It probably helped that she taught special needs kids, so her patience and education was leaps and bounds over mine in the area of children. But seeing my daughter there, knowing what a hard time she was having with her new baby brother and how she wouldn’t say it but she felt completely displaced, and there I was watching from a window.
My new neighbors are fantastic people. They are laid-back. The mom is a stay-at-home but used to teach preschool. They don’t yell. They laugh. And they give my kids soda and let them watch the television whenever they want.
I wonder if the battles I’ve picked are ones that will come back to haunt me.
Tonight I help my youngest put together his little gift bags for his friends for his pseudo birthday at preschool. When we were done, we went upstairs where my husband was reading Charlotte’s Web to my oldest son.
I asked my youngest if he wanted to go in my room and I’d read him Harry Potter, his request every night.
“I want Daddy to read it.”
“Well he’s already reading Charlotte’s Web to your brother.”
He sat quietly before he said, “It’s not that I don’t want you to read, but I miss Daddy. Maybe you could read to me tomorrow?”
My heart broke partially because my husband is their go-to and partially because my son felt the need to make me feel better. I swore, absolutely swore, I would never raise children to make them feel guilty. I know what that feels like being too young to handle the emotions of a grown-up. And yet, here we were.
“Honey, that’s fine that you and J want Daddy to read to you. Really truly. But he can’t read two stories at once.” I tried my best to remove the guilt because if there is one thing I can give them, it’s that. Then my husband walked in.
He told them it was too late to read more of either book so he read this:
It’s become one of their favorites about a boy who gets a kite stuck in a tree and continues to throw things up there to get it out.
Despite all evidence to the contrary, he keeps doing the same thing over and over…
Many people comment on how lucky I am that my husband does all that he does and it’s true, he is amazing. But I don’t know that anyone but a fellow working mom understands how hard it is when your kids don’t come to you when they fall but run to your husband instead.
Your heart breaks a little every single time.
I worked on my book this morning and saw that it’s really about mothers. And how mothers fail. And how they keep trying. And how they fail again.