when i was a little lauren i would twist the stems of apples to find out the letter of my future husband’s last name. i doodled my first name with the last of the boy i had a crush on all over my junior high notebooks. i remember being 12 years old fantasizing with my girlfriends about where our future husband’s were at that exact moment: did we already know them? did they live in a different state? would we know it was HIM the moment we first saw each other?
even with all the creativity my 12 year old self had, i’m pretty sure i never thought “i wonder if HE is 33 years old right now, married to someone else and will already have three children by the time we meet?”
shockingly, that scenario just wasn’t part of my girlish, or womanish, fantasies. but reality has a way of kicking the ass of those fantasies. a been-there-done-that husband was not at all what i was looking for, certainly not at 23 when we met. but by 25 i moved in with him anyway and, voila, got a ready-made family. casey was 10 when i met her and chris and cam were 6. i was certainly in no position to be anyone’s parental figure so i became their oversized playmate instead.
casey and i hit it off amazingly well from the first second i met her. i had an instant bff. it was kind of scary the amount of things i had in common with a ten year old. we drank a shirley temple at every restaurant, liked the same foods, even decided to be vegetarians together for about five minutes. we are both very emotional creatures stifled in a german family but we had each other to cry with over animal cruelty and movies. okay, i’m not naive, i realize that the only reason she accepted some young chick with her daddy this effortlessly was because she wasn’t a teenager when i met her. we got some precious years of bonding in before the hormone induced extraterrestrial years would start which no doubt would have made things a little harder to swallow.
the boys were a bit more challenging. i had taught preschool just before i moved to florida so i was used to conversing on a 3 year old level. i don’t think i’d ever met a 6 year old before them. and besides, they were BOYS. what the heck was i supposed to do with two boys who were too old for preschool games but too young to drink with?
they always seemed to find me entertaining and got some good laughs at my expense, but when it came down to who would sit by me in a restaurant, or who would drive with me if we had to take two cars, it was always casey. the boys were never rude when declining to be within 10 feet of me, it was just as if they were saying, “Look, you’re nice enough. We like that you make daddy happy. It’s okay you live in our house. But you are not our family. So we are gonna keep our distance for a while.” who knew you could get your feelings hurt by a 6 year old?
thankfully, it was not long before all three of them accepted me into their family. five years after meeting them I still really, truly, have no “My skids are SUCH assholes to me!” stories. even now that casey is 15 we still have yet to have a step-fight. oh, wait, that’s not true. we had one several months ago that i have chosen to chalk up to my severe sleep deprivation and her being part of a terrible species called ‘teenager’.
step parenting is a really weird freaking thing. and anyone who expects you to be able to do it well obviously has never been one. the role is too bizarre. i don’t even understand it. you are not the parent, and yet are expected to act like one sometimes but without stepping on the parent’s toes. it’s never even clear when those sometimes are until it’s too late and your spouse is yelling at you for failing to ‘step’ up. and how the hell do you parent someone’s kid without stepping on their parent’s toes? seems to me stepparent means: the child/rens friend with parental obligations without parental responsibility, authority, or any kind of say whatsoever.
more terrifying than being 25 in a house full of kids you weren’t sure were going to accept or love you, was being pregnant with their half siblings not sure whether they were going to accept or love them.
gil and i knew they were each going to go through about a zillion emotions before the babies were even born (join the club!). we encouraged communication always and i told them they were allowed to feel whatever they were feeling; good, bad, or criminal. we heard all of it from jealously that ” ‘these kids’ are gonna get to live with dad every day” “babies suck because they get all the attention” “we have to share our dad with two more people” “is another set of twin boys going to make us less special or less unique?” “you’re a selfish bitch for wanting your ‘own kids'”(okay they never said that but at times that was certainly the vibe i was getting!).
i’ll be honest and tell you that sometimes the selfish side of me took over and i would feel angry at all of the negative energy being thrown at my unborn. it’s difficult when the happiest time in your life is one of the hardest for people you love. you want everyone in your life to feel as peaceful, elated, and grateful as you do. it took everything in me to be understanding when the arrival of the two treasures i’d waited my whole life for was being tainted by fear.
just as it always does,the fear turned out to be far worse than the reality. the day the babies were born christian and cameron held them in the hospital and you could see the pride oozing out of their smiles. their very important role of BIG BROTHERS was now 100% into effect. they would forever be 24/7 ROCK STARS. that those little people in their arms would be looking up to them throughout their entire lives.
while casey accepted and loved me right from the start, it took a lot longer for the babies to win her approval. after all, how many 15 year olds want to deal with not one but two crying, puking, creatures demanding all of your stepmother’s time and much of your fathers? casey and i used to hang out together all of the time before the babies were born. as the only girls in the house we jumped at any opportunity to get out and do ‘girly stuff’. i think it wasn’t until colt and jett were 8 months old that she and i got to go out for an hour without them. so i’m the first one to admit it’s been a challenging adjustment.
as soon as they started morphing from their wretched alien looking early days into- even she had to admit- super duper adorable identicals, i think she started to get less embarrassed about having her friends over. she even started to hold them in public once in a while. i asked casey to be jett’s godmother, not to try to force a bond between them, but because i knew she’d grow into the role beautifully. i was right. her family has changed, it’s hard to find security in that until you notice that change doesn’t mean it’s for the worse. we’ve worked very hard to prove to all three kids that the babies aren’t more or less special than they are. that the babies could never, will never replace them. that they all have just as huge a chunk of their dad’s heart as they always have. and that we have not created a new family, we just expanded the one we had.
cameron and christian graduated 5th grade last week. when they went up to receive their diplomas, gil went rushing to the front row snapping pictures on his iphone. he was quite the picture himself, of a father glowing with pride. i felt proud of them and i have only known them since 1st grade. what a feeling of accomplishment it must have been for him. to see the babies he taught how to walk, walk onto a stage and receive a diploma.
nothing made us prouder that day though, then what happened following the graduation. we met the boys in the reception room. they immediately ran over to us, not to hug or acknowledge us, but to grab colt and jett from their stroller and bring them to meet their classmates. within seconds colt and jett were ambushed by 70 something 5th graders oohing and ahhing over chris and cam’s little brothers. every time we blinked someone else was holding the babies. i stood off to the side with gil watching this scene unfold. we couldn’t help smiling every time we heard chris and cam’s voices proudly say “These are our brothers!” “This is Colt, he’s my little brother.” “Can you believe we have two sets of twins?!”
although i was almost brought to tears over how beautiful this moment was, i was completely skeeved out and silently freaking over the 70 walking germs passing my babies off to one another awkwardly. casey, knowing me all to well, walked over to me and said “You’re having a heart attack right now aren’t you?”
through a clenched smile “Yeeep.”
she laughed and went into the mosh pit to rescue one little identical who looked like he’d just been ravaged.
so there they were. the three beautiful kids we were so worried would not accept a step mom, now showing off the babies we were so worried they wouldn’t want to love. if anything should, THIS should teach me what a waste of time worrying is and that these kiddos deserved a lot more credit than we gave them.
i laid in bed that night after sanitizing the hell out of the babies, thinking about all the names i doodled, all the apple stems i twisted, all the fairy tales i starred in inside my head, and how none of that worked out for me. but what i got works because we work at it. nothing comes easy and without diaper baggage when you have a blended family. but i’ll marry my been-there-done-that husband and his kids any day because i don’t think i could feel as proud of my family if i were in anybody else’s. and that’s why it doesn’t matter to me that we aren’t a conventional (aka boring) family, or that gil and i look like a walking stereotype. if you want to judge us, have at it cause not only was i absent the day they taught the ‘how to give a shit what anybody thinks’ course, but i’m a stepmother. i live with a teenage girl, a husband who has the sensitivity of a fork, and FOUR boys. my skins a helluva lot tougher than anything you’re gonna throw at it!