Since this blog is about being a stepparent, it is only fitting that I share my experience as a stepchild.
When my stepfather George was discharged from the hospital after spending many months convalescing from the effects of diabetes and Parkinson’s disease; I didn’t hesitate to bring him home with us. He informed me that he couldn’t bear to return to an empty house and that was all I needed to hear. He had not been home since my mother died. Even though we already have a full house it didn’t matter. He did not cease being my stepfather at the moment of my mother’s death.
I was 18 years old when my mother and George first began dating. I was not too impressed. Whereas my mother was quiet and intellectual, he was animated and overly opinionated. They were like night and day both literally and figuratively. He was a pair of oft worn acid washed jeans. She was an expensive ball gown made of the most exquisite fabric. In short his very being was offensive to me. I could not see for the life of me what she saw in him. I did not like how their opposites attracted.
George was so very different from any other person I had ever known. He was the black sheep in his family and it was obvious to me why. In fact, when it was time to write a paper in my Multicultural Education class about a person who was culturally different than ourselves, I chose George. I presented my mother and him with a copy of my A+ paper and he was near tears—simply honored at being the subject.
By the time I graduated from college they were planning to get married. I was horrified that she was making him a permanent fixture in my life. I didn’t talk to my mother for several months when I learned of their upcoming nuptials. I felt betrayed by her choice in a mate. She owed it to me to make me happy—not herself and definitely not him! Closer to the date I cried incessantly for days and had to force myself to attend the wedding. I was petulant during the ceremony. I praised God that at least I didn’t have to live under their roof. And it annoyed me that for the most part my siblings loved him. Even my extended family was fond of him. They seemed to admire his maverick attitude. I seriously wondered if George had worked some type of voodoo magic on my entire family and rendered them blind, for they did not see him as I did. Apparently I was the only one of sound mind left.
When I was eight months pregnant with Nicholas he and my mother stopped by our house for a visit. My husband was at work and I was pretty bored. George invited me to join them at the county fair. Initially I declined because I was pregnant. Truthfully I was afraid that he would embarass me. George quickly pointed out that I didn’t have to get on any rides. One by one he knocked down my excuses until I found myself walking around the fairgrounds having a wonderful time with the two of them. I began to see what she saw in him.
Slowly, very slowly over the years he began to grow on me. George was no doubt quirky and at times too boisterous for my liking, but he was simply being the best George he knew how to be. He is a true case of what you see is what you get. Soon I started to notice his finer qualities. He was very kind to all—whether it was family or perfect strangers. He was unabashedly generous and hospitable. He loved to see us and others happy. He was a hard worker and a good provider. He had many friends and was even on excellent terms with his ex-wife’s family.
I would have never believed there could be a day under the sun when I would actually like him. But the day did come quite some time ago when I made the decision to focus on his good qualities and ignore the bad ones. And I realized it spoke volumes that my mother thought so well of him.
Recently while going through my mother’s possessions, I came across a card I had written her long ago lamenting my dislike of George. I was instantly ashamed and appalled by my shallowness. My sweet mother had to endure my superior, snotty opinion. She allowed me to have my feelings about what I deemed to be a poor choice for her life. If I could tell her how I am sorry I am now for my condscending attitude, I would.
He has only been at our home for a couple of weeks now and will probably not stay longer than a few months. Nicholas was gracious enough to give his Grandpa his room while he is here. I watch him from time to time and I see traces of sadness that he valiantly tries to hide. At night I can’t sleep. I can’t help but to cry at the pain I know he is feeling. In a frenzy to keep his memories at bay I work hard to keep him entertained. I’ve even enlisted my husband to help. He takes George whereever he goes to get him out of the house. The rest of my family visits frequently to help cheer him up. On Saturday my aunt even hosted a bar-b-que for his birthday. This display of love has truly overwhelmed him.
I don’t have to imagine how much he misses her. It is a sorrow too dark and deep for speaking. It is like someone has taken a hammer to my ceramic heart and smashed it into a million little pieces. It feels unnatural to have my stepfather without my mother—it’s like swimming in an ocean without water.
But yesterday I understood that I couldn’t keep trying to hold his memories hostage. It is too exhausting. After dinner I stood at the sink washing dishes as he sat at the table looking drawn and pensive. Usually I would have talked a mile a minute to remove the sadness lining his face. Instead I took a break from the dishes and asked him if he would be interested in seeing the things I was collecting for my mother’s scrapbook. He was eager to see it and I left him alone with the box of memories. When I returned to the kitchen, he was not at the table. George was in the garage having a moment. I felt bad and regretted my suggestion. But when he returned to the table he commented on each artifact and said he couldn’t wait to see it arranged in scrapbook form.
Not wanting to end on sad note, I asked him if he felt like looking through the photo albums. It was my way reminding him of the good times that we shared with her. I wanted to balance her death with life. We laughed as we sat reminscing on days past. Through this I felt a bit of light penetrating the darkness of our days-the light of my mother’s smile.