Putting the mom in stepmom

Sunday, May 14, 2006

SHE SAID: Dear stepmoms,

Is today awkward for you too?

Around the country, millions of moms are celebrating Mother's Day. And, boy, do they deserve the recognition.

But each time this holiday rolls around, I can't help thinking, why isn't there a Stepmother's Day too?

Webster's New World Dictionary defines a stepmother as "the person who married one's father after the death of or divorce from the other parent."

I don't know about you, but that doesn't describe my role in my 8-year-old stepson's life at all.

A couple weeks ago, Drew gave me a handmade card that thanked me for "feeding and watering" him, playing games with him and just generally keeping him healthy.

All of that is part of being a stepmom.

Even having the sweetest, smartest stepson possible didn't make the transition from 23-year-old single gal to wife and stepmom easy.

But at some point, having Drew around stopped being an infringement on my time with Bob.

At some point, the fact that Drew occasionally forgets to chew with his mouth closed -- don't we all? -- stopped bothering me.

At some point, I started waking up at night any time Drew -- asleep in his room across the hall with a bathroom in between us -- coughed or sniffled even once.

At some point, I realized the M-O-M part of the word was more important than the S-T-E-P.

Drew once described our situation like this: Before I came along, he had two great chicken nuggets on his plate (his mom and his dad). Now he has a yummy taco too (me). A well-rounded meal if I ever saw one.

There's no way I'd ever want to take away from the great relationship Drew has with his mom, so we've come up with an alternative to celebrating my role in his life. Next Sunday is the first official Stepmother's Day in the Miller household.

Drew has already decided the perfect way to honor his stepmom is by inviting a bunch of his friends over for a whiffle ball game in the backyard. I told him I should get to decide what we do that day, not him.

But then I thought, what better describes a mom -- step or birth -- than sacrifice? I expect we'll be having chicken nuggets and tacos for lunch that day too.

HE SAID: I don't know exactly when it happened or why.

But at some point during our relationship, Callie developed a mothering intuition. I suppose that sentence is an oxymoron, as an intuition isn't something that is typically developed.

Callie was almost afraid at first, timid to get her hands dirty in a role that was uncertain and that offered more costs than benefits. I never asked her, but I implied that I wanted for her and Drew to become close. To ask would be too much.

Almost out of nowhere, Callie began cooking family-type dinners with vegetables. She started noticing manners -- chewing with mouths closed, saying please and thank you. She began buying things for Drew. She started a tradition of making crafts; she's made homemade goo, she's painted pictures with him, she's baked with him.

She's gotten her hands dirty, sure enough.

She's done it for a boy who is not hers. No matter what she does, she will always be no more than the second-most important female in Drew's life. That's not a bad thing, it's just the way things are. And Callie encourages Drew to maintain that point of view. Callie helps Drew make gifts for his natural mother.

Stepmotherhood is a role of sacrifice. Not only does the stepmom love and care for children who are not hers, she also has to share time with her husband.

But the sacrifice is not the biggest reason I owe Callie a debt of gratitude.

I owe her so much because she's made me a better father. She opened my eyes to some bad parenting techniques. She's encouraged me to become more active with my son, to participate more in his life, to expect more out of my father-son relationship.

My cute and talented wife has been a better stepmother than I could have hoped or expected. So to all you stepmoms out there who are loving children as your own, even though they're not, my gratitude goes out to you, too. Thanks.

cmiller@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 128

bmiller@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 122

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