Sunday, May 12, 2013

What the Heart Knows that the Womb Doesn't

This blog post has been resting in my heart and my mind for a while, ever since Lisa-Jo Baker posted this post the real-life definition of a mother.

Because I often think about the role I have in my kids' lives, Lisa-Jo's definition really struck home. Not in a bad way, just in a way that made me think. I know Lisa-Jo has had an "other mother" in her life so I do not pretend to think that she is really only talking about biological mothers here. But my mind often hangs on titles, so I wanted to write out my own "definition of a stepmother."

But I found I couldn't. Because I don't think there is one that can include all stepmothers. So I decided to write a definition of myself as a stepmother, as an other-mother, as whoever I am to these kids at this point in time. Because it's different for each child. To the eldest girl, I am a bother she doesn't want to admit that she loves. To the middle I am the mama she desperately wants to call on but feels scared and confused. And to the youngest, my little man, I am nearly as much of a mother as his own as I've been in all of his known memories.

So I set out to write a simple definition for myself which quickly became a tome of how my title of "stepmother" - and how these kids and myself - have changed in five years.

The following is my response to Lisa-Jo's blog entry and I ask for grace as you read. This is the story God currently writes in my life. Not every story is the same. In fact, our stories are not the same at all.

I thank you for reading and my hope is that the stepmother role and title can one day be taken out of the vaults of badly-depicted Disney movies and snarky women on soap operas.

My womb was expectantly waiting for children the day I met my love. My womb waited and waited until the truth began to settle like an emptiness unknown to fullness.

My womb would always be empty and so, I thought, would my heart.

But I became a stay-at-home-Something soon after meeting him and took the one and a half year old to Storytime, tried to nudge him to join clapping games. I kissed his warm barely-there-blond-hair on nights he slept over and, in the morning, held and rocked him upon waking.

But my stay-at-home-ness was new and foreign and on some days I didn't like it.

And I resented.

But there were days when I played trucks and made PB&Js and secured bandaids. The girls, still young enough to be amazed, repeated their requests for me to sing Ariel’s song from “The Little Mermaid.” Then the next day they'd fight with each other so bad that I wanted to stomp out in my own tantrum and slam my door behind me.

My identity wavered.

Now, five-ish years later, my identity is rooted in titles that defy true comprehension. Titles like “stepmother” that get written on emergency contact forms and titles like “Mom” to the in-the-moment-slipped tongue.

I do not ask for the Mom title. I don’t feel it’s mine to have, though I do the Mom thing.

I have made plates of waffles that would sink a ship. I have yelled at doors so loud the house shook. I have used the word Stop too many times and not said enough Go’s.

I have worn my own mother on my sleeve and allowed her anxieties to clutch these kids tight.

I have walked blocks in this neighborhood crying, wanting an “in” to this family to which I don’t always fit, and also sometimes wanting an “out” to everything I said yes to.

And then I am reminded.

The middle girl who twirls my hair as we sit together, who fingers my cross necklace as she buries her head in my neck, who wants me to braid her hair because I finally got this hair-thing right.

I am reminded.

The boy who I potty-trained four years ago now won’t let me see his naked bum because I’m a girl and I laugh because I made sure he aimed at the toilet so many years ago. He who asks me to sing my made-up song I sang to him as a baby - that he remembers! Every night, the request to sing, the request to rub his back.

And I am reminded.

The oldest, in all her drama and trauma, I am reminded even as she pushes me away and spits on my advances. Even as she is not with us right now and is in serious peril, I am reminded as she talks calmly to me on the phone when everyone else she verbally abuses. When I look around my bedroom at the kids’ drawings and I see hers from four years ago, naming me the “best stepmom in the world” who gave her “hope when [her] family broke up.”  I am reminded when I clean out her bedroom and I see the poem I wrote her not torn and tossed in the garbage, but put in her dresser drawer. For safe keeping or just out of the way - no matter. It was not in the trash can in shreds and my heart was not in shards. Even in silence and absence she reminds me.

I can do this.

I can relive my childhood as I watch them grow up and I can be okay with it all.

I can forgive myself for all the wrongs I did as I watch my kids do all the same wrongs and hopefully forgive them, too.

I can do so much forgiving all before we get into the car to go to school.

“I have lost it, yelled it, fought it, cried it and apologized it all before 9am.” - Lisa-Jo Baker

Yes, that.

I have spoken Truth to a little girl’s fears, empowered her with an emotional vocabulary, and watch it all fade away in the span of a day only to have it return in full force the next.

I have explained too much and also not enough.

I have nitpicked and critiqued.

I have not looked, listened, and felt in emotional first aid emergencies. And everyone knows you need to do that.

“I have been woken up, shaken up, thrown up, loved up, and shut up. I have never quite, completely, ever given up.” - Lisa-Jo Baker

And yes, that.

I am halfway to insanity on most days but still want to come home to the eyes of these children, the arms of my husband.

I would have never guessed this life for myself in a million years. My womb wants to fight me on this one. My womb insists it is still empty and on the bad days, it cries out for more.

I know better because just when I think they hate me they shock me with arms that reach for me.

I know better because just when I think I have done or said that thing to tip them over the edge, there is a knock on the door asking for one last hug goodnight.

I know better because God called me here and spoke to me clear and plain that these were the needy children I was to serve, not the ones in Honduras or Uganda.

And though wet towels left on the floor sends me through the roof, I can barely believe we own this beautiful house and live in this beautiful town and have the good neighbors and church families that we do.

I am amazed that after five years I can say to the kids, “I can’t believe how much you’ve grown.”

Stepmothers get such the bad rap and though I’ve been on the spitting end of hateful words and slammed doors and torn up pictures and scratched up gifts, I know that I love them with all the love that a womb can hold.

They are mine, too. Not born in my womb, but in my heart. And not right from the start, but in time. 

Our love for each other is by choice and earned intentionally. It hasn't been there “since their first breath,” but it’s grown over time and past shirt sizes.

“I am out of my mind and in my calling and desperate for five minutes alone and a lifetime together.” - Lisa-Jo Baker

Oh, and so much of that.

I want to slow down and listen to the wise words of other mothers around me, words to heed time and squeeze the small moments because memories aren’t as tangible.

I want a better sense of humor, to not be so weepy, but I want to teach the ability to let out the icky feelings and then be okay.

“These are the good days, the glory days, the slow-as-molasses days. These are the fast years, the wonder years, the how-do-I-find-words years.” - Lisa Jo Baker

These are days I want to stretch to infinity and stop all at once. These are days of contradictions and confusion, desperation and howling at the moon.

And I wouldn’t change any of it.

My womb might not have guessed I’d never bear children. But my heart always knew I would love them.

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