Monday, May 2, 2016

those who save us

My beau has a daughter. She doesn't remember a time in her life when I was not a part of it. She calls me her stepmom. Her friends and her friends' parents and my friends call me her stepmom. I could be. I should be. 

But it's not all cupcakes and champagne. 

As I said goodbye to one of my Board members one afternoon this week, I wished her happy Mother's Day if I didn't see her before then. She said, "Same to you."

It makes me feel like a fraud. I feel embarrassment, shame, and all other manner of self-deprecating emotions that are largely uncommon in my life when people wish me a happy Mother's Day. It's a ridiculous reaction. Nia Vardolas, the actress in/writer of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, wrote an amazing book, Instant Mom, about her journey towards motherhood that included adopting a child from the American foster care system and argued that "If you've wiped a butt, you're a mom."

N'est-ce pas? 

I rationally know that I matter to my beau's daughter. I rationally know that she loves me and enjoys spending time with me and admires me and considers herself my daughter. I rationally know that the day will come--and, at this rate, soon!--when she tells me with so so so so so so much anger that I am not her mother. To which I will respond, "but I *am* your parent."

When it comes to how I parent, I feel like I am constantly questioning myself. Especially lately, because the lessons on how and why to wear socks are far easier than the lessons on how and why to empathize. The tantrums that she mostly missed in her second and third years have arrived with foot stomps, exclamations of "I'm so so so so so so angry!", and slumping onto the floor in protest. Sometimes I wonder how we got a teenager trapped in a kindergartner's body.

I cannot imagine a circumstance when I get to spend Mother's Day with her. My brother got married last year on the night before Mother's Day, and that Sunday at brunch, everyone was wishing the women happy Mother's Day. Except not one person said it to me: no one in the family I was born into, no one in my new family, no one in the family I have created. 

And I felt like a fraud for being bothered by it.

I feel a constant search for validation: even though her father and I aren't married (yet? ever?) and that I didn't give birth to her, I desire a sense of belonging to a club I haven't biologically joined. The other female caregivers whose children are in her class have been really accepting of me; they offer advice whenever I ask, they encourage me via text message, and they refuse to let me belittle myself because I'm "just" a stepmom. They help me realize that all of us are questioning ourselves all the time, even the ones whose bellies and thighs and breasts stretched in ways mine haven't (yet? ever?). These neighbors and strangers recognize that beau's daughter and I love each other and that I put great purpose into always putting her best interests first. 

Which is one reason why I laugh at her when she gets alligator tears over having to choose which uniform to wear to school: validating her ridiculousness is not in her best interest.

So, this Mother's Day, I am going to try to put all of my ridiculousness away. I'm going to be grateful for my own biological mother and all of the other female caregivers and friends who have been the village that raised me. I'm going to be grateful for all of the female caregivers who have helped me improve as a mother. I'm going to be grateful for beau for being a wonderful partner and for sharing his beautiful and sweet daughter with me, for entrusting me, for loving me. 

Because embarrassment, shame, and all other manner of self-deprecating emotions are not in my best interest. I am not a fraud; my love for beau and his daughter is not a fraud. And it's in my best interest to find gratitude and grace today and always.