The evolution of a stepmother

Da Man has entered the house.

Da Man, otherwise known as the Adored Stepson, turned 20 yesterday. He’s no longer a teenager. He knows it. And he wants everyone else to know it, too. He probably would like to be referred to as “Da Man” ever after on this blog, but he’s forever the Adored Stepson.

When we celebrated his 13th birthday with a new bike and a spaghetti meal at Bucca di Beppos, he was a foreign creature to me, but a friendly one. I suspected he was on the verge of big changes, and I considered myself fortunate he was a boy instead of a girl (I was a pubescent girl once and I never had the, um, honor of living with my stepdaughter during that transition). In fact, it was a gift to witness Adored Stepson’s evolution from boy to man.

The growth chart inside Stepson's closet marks the obvious. The unlabeled mark on the right? I think that's my height. Stepson aspired to be taller than me until suddenly, he was.

The growth chart inside Stepson’s closet marks the obvious. The unlabeled mark on the right? I think that’s my height. Stepson aspired to be taller than me until suddenly, he was.

We could talk about all the ways he’s changed since that momentous birthday seven years ago — the hair, the girls, the muscles, the sense of self — but that is a story told best by the one who experienced them. How, instead, has the stepmother come of age in the dawn to dusk of a teenager?

My Adored Stepson, he is a unique individual, an unexpected component of the Togetherness I endeavored to achieve with my Beloved. I enjoy Stepson’s sense of humor a lot more than I expected to. I liked teaching him about spelling, history and faith. The season he played Little League baseball was pure joy for me.

And I learned I’m a lot better at talking about sex than my parents were.

When he left us at age 15 to live with his mother, I was devastated. Gobsmacked, as a Brit might say. Unexpected grief washed over me in a way that taught me how special he was (is). I might have thought I was immune from such rejection, but, alas, no. We had bonded.

Fortunately, things get better. This is how teenagers are. They change.

What didn’t change was my desire to have a child of my own. Having a stepchild proved my theory that children require a lot of time, effort and emotional investment. And the responsibility! Uff-da! I am, for example, the sole reason Stepson will never enjoy gazpacho (lesson learned: Never force a 13-year-old to eat cold tomato soup).

Now that he is 20, I look back on his teenage years like a mountain climber: “I did it! I survived!”

But of course, like a biological parent, a stepparent’s job is never really finished. It just evolves.

 

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