Last month I found myself in the unlikely position of being a person that someone is nervous to meet. Me, the woman who would spend my life in my pajamas if I could, sprawled on the couch watching “What Not To Wear.”
My 16-yr old stepson was introducing his new girlfriend to my husband, my 10-yr old daughter and me over dinner. Her mother dropped her off at the restaurant and it struck me, as I sat in my jean jacket, toe ring and cheap gold hoops, that I was suddenly in the role of being “vetted” as a person responsible for making sure that my stepson was worthy of this woman’s daughter. As we shook hands there was an instant yet silent vow of promise that her daughter would be safe on my watch. At that moment, I realized more than I had before, that I was a parental figure to a 16-yr old boy.
Before my husband and I actually met face-to-face we e-mailed and spoke on the phone every chance we could. We met online and in our “profiles” we both emphasized the central role our children played in our lives as one would hope that most parents would. At the time we met, my daughter was a very sassy 8 (and ¾) and my husband’s boys, 15 and 19.
There was a very steep learning curve for all of us as we merged lives. I was becoming used to (although certainly not always successfully) navigating the moods and whims of a tween. She and I, in the three years between my first and second marriage, had created our own special dynamic, both combative and fiercely loving. Her father and I split her time straight down the middle, so when she was with me, we were intensely focused on each other. We had dance parties, put outfits together, snuggled on the couch and had sleepovers in my king-sized memory foam bed. We yelled, she slammed doors and went ballistic when I brushed the knots our of her hair, but this was us. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
My husband entered into our marriage with an entirely different set of circumstances. His divorce was bitter and due to all sorts of circumstances, his boys blamed him for the break up of their family. There was distance and anger and intense sadness on my husband’s part. I suppose the most undeniably unique aspect of this mix, is that his oldest son is transgender who transitioned from female-to-male at age 17. Now here’s the thing–those who have known me a long time would say that if anyone could handle this without missing a beat it would be me. My entire life has revolved around an incredible mix of people with issues of gender identity, socio-economic status and race. That being said, I certainly didn’t come armed with a script or have any idea how to explain this to my daughter (who, when I did, was so non-plussed she said “That’s so cool!”).
When my husband and I first started seeing each other the 16-yr old had no problem meeting me. We talked about the trials and tribulations of straightening our hair, I hipped him to an awesome flatiron, and I think he thought I was pretty damn cool. It took the 19-yr old a while to agree to meet me but when he finally did, I know I put him at ease. I know from what my husband tells me, and from what I sense, that at this point, while their mother seems to be on a bit of a hiatus from being a parent, that I’m doing a pretty decent job of paying attention to them and making them feel loved.
After over a year of knowing these magnificent young men, my life has been completely changed and enhanced in ways that were entirely unexpected. My heart swells when they smile and when they laugh with their father. I am moved beyond words when I watch them in private moments with my daughter. I know, having two big brothers of my own, that the relationships that are forming between them will be utterly priceless as the boys pave the way for her and counsel her as she follows along their trajectory.
It didn’t take us long to LOVE my stepson’s new girlfriend. She is adorable and delightful and makes him happy. As a mother, I’ve wanted to call hers to tell her this because every parent wants to know that they’ve done a really good job. I haven’t done this yet, because somehow, I still feel like I’m getting used to this role, but I will and in turn, I hope she tells me what a fine job my husband and I are doing to raise “our” son.