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My Mother's Day
The scent of fresh spruce filled the house; ornaments lay waiting to decorate the first Christmas tree Jimmy and I were sharing as a married couple. I paced the living room, jumpy and tense. At any minute, Jimmy's 15-year-old son and 13-year-old daughter would be arriving to share in the tree trimming and to mark another first, the first tradition the four of us were sharing as a family.
And despite Jimmy's assurances, I was positive it would be a disaster.
No big drama was fueling this conviction of mine. Throughout the six months Jimmy and I had dated and into the early months of our marriage, his children had been polite and good-natured around me. But I tried to keep our contact to a minimum. Whenever they were supposed to come over, I made sure I had a commitment elsewhere. Jimmy implored me to join them, but I said I didn't want to get in the way. That was true, but even truer was the fact that I was terrified of negotiating a relationship with the kids.
Even though Jimmy had been divorced from his ex-wife for many years, the very nature of a stepparent relationship is based on loss, on the disintegration of the first family. If I got any closer to the kids, would they resent me? Resist me? Would they (gulp) hate me?
Underneath it all was a profound sorrow I held at being childless myself, and a fear that since I haven't been able to have children of my own, I somehow lacked the capacity to mother.
All this was running through my head when the doorbell rang and the kids charged in. After saying hello, I quickly escaped into the kitchen. I was greasing cookie sheets and adjusting the stove, wondering how to stretch this food-preparation thing out as long as possible, when I noticed my stepdaughter standing in the doorway.
"Can I, like, help you and stuff?"
Her dreamy brown eyes and crooked grin were exactly like her father's, that face I love so much. It was a face like a puppy's, hopeful and open and seeking affection. What did I have to fear from such a face?
"Do you want to do the sugar cookies while I get the chocolate-chip?" I moved to give her space at the counter.
Within a minute she was fixing batter and asking my opinion on everything from cookie sprinkles to clothing. Did I think Ashton Kutcher was cute? Was going out for cheerleading a good idea? Had I ever toilet-papered anybody's house? It felt easy and natural to fall into her groove — girl talk is, after all, girl talk. (My answers? Yes, yes, and, well, maybe, once upon a time....)
As we chatted, I could feel my trepidation evaporate. And it struck me that maybe both she and her brother had been standing at the door all these months. Yes, I could offer comfort and insight to these kids. I would never be their mother, but I had within me the gift of mothering. They had just been waiting to receive it.
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