Stepmoms Speak

10 02 2009

Andrea Langworthy is a freelancer writer in Rosemount, Minnesota. She’s a columnist for the Rosemount Town Pages newspaper and Minnesota Good Age. www.andrealangworthy.com

We Are Family

By Andrea Langworthy

I received an e-mail survey from a writer who was gathering information for a magazine article. Recipients were asked how they refer to their stepchildren and what the children call us, the stepparent. I have been married to my husband for nearly 19 years, but I’m still not sure what to call his son. At the time we married, my husband’s son attended college in another state and, since then, our relationship has been mostly long-distance. I’ve only heard him call me by my first name or, recently, the nickname used by family and old friends. I like that better because it makes us seem close.

Which we should be. After all, I’ve known him since he was a darling eight-year-old when his father and I worked together. With children the same ages, his dad and I often shared their exploits and accomplishments. Nothing too personal, as we were only co-workers and married to others at the time. I remember the day his dad came to work excited to share the news it was his son’s birthday. He and his wife had given their teenager Prince’s new movie, Purple Rain. “That’s expensive,” I said. He nodded his head proudly.

Summers, our families were together at company softball games. There were potluck picnics, too, where we all chipped in for hot dogs. The kids went swimming in Bush Lake and everyone ate too much potato salad, cole slaw and brownies. Some of the adults drank too much beer. The day always ended with a softball game, kids and parents alike running bases and chasing fly balls.

All this work-related togetherness didn’t prepare us to become relatives when my husband and I married years later during a blizzard. Weathermen had advised against travel and we worried about my husband’s son and his girlfriend who were driving from Florida for the occasion. We should have told them not to brave the elements but it was important all three of our children bless the union with their presence. No one had expressed any outrage, but still, you never know what emotions are bubbling under a cool demeanor. After the ceremony, we headed to a fancy dinner and family bonding.

I’ll admit: at first, I tried too hard. Tried to make us a big happy family, refusing to believe the word “step” was part of it. I envisioned merry Christmases, everyone singing carols around the tree and opening gifts. I arranged birthday celebrations at restaurants and brought party napkins and cake, trying to create a family with little-kid celebrations for kids who were grownups. We all went skiing one year, visited Disney World another, both trips fraught with disaster. Once I let go of my starry-eyed notions, though, it became easier.

I’ve grown to love my husband’s son. I applaud his every accomplishment and ache for any unpleasantness he encounters. When he and his father meet for a yearly Cubs game in Chicago, I cheer every home-run moment they share. When he scoured my newspaper columns searching for a Christmas gift idea and sent me a first edition of Death Be Not Proud, a book I had written was a favorite, I cried.

This weekend, he and his wife will be in Minnesota and we will celebrate his 40th birthday at brunch. I still don’t know what to call him. Stepson feels so distant, yet son, an imposition. As for what he calls me, it isn’t important. When he and I spoke on Thanksgiving, he ended our phone conversation with “Love ya.” That’s all that matters, isn’t it?

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