These are the words that best define me, and I feel honored to use all of them not only as nouns, but as adjectives. But those labels come with a responsibility, a joyful one, as far as I am concerned.
In the last couple of weeks, I’ve done a good bit of caregiving. It happens. My mom in the hospital, my sister and her family staying with me while their new house was being readied, watching over my nephew who was sick, it took up quite a bit of my energy and time. I know we don’t always, but right now, I’m doing well and have extra strength to give.
And I wouldn’t have it any other way. I feel like I’ve been given a gift. Time with my loved ones.
I know of a woman from school, we’ll call her an acquaintance because I have utterly no respect for her and therefore do not consider her worthy of friendship, who married a man with two kids. She constantly feels robbed if any attention or money goes to his children. She doesn’t consciously understand this of course, but it is obvious to anyone who loves and cares for children, their own, or someone else’s. I remember having a conversation with her before her wedding where she was complaining about having to drive the kids to school, or anywhere.
I said, “Well, get ready, because as their step mother you will be taking on that responsibility.” And she literally shouted at me, “It’s not my responsibility to drive them, it’s his!!” Since then, I’ve heard from those kids that when she does have to take them somewhere, she always tells them, “You owe me.”
This is the same woman who constantly touts herself as a stellar stepmother on twitter or FB, which defines what she values. Not the kids, but being admired for all her ‘efforts.’ (she also makes a big deal about ‘cooking them nutritious meals’ which the kids define as ‘the same 3 tasteless dinners’) There’s a lot else I don’t care for in this woman, or people like her, but that sums it up for me. I have to wonder not only why she would marry a man with children if she’s going to resent even the most basic of family responsibilities.
The answer of course, is that he’s rich and famous and the kids are an unfortunate inconvenience. But that’s another blog.
I have another friend whose stepmother documents every penny spent on him. Keeps a ledger. I have to wonder what possible purpose this could serve. Does she expect him to pay her back for every fast food meal? What does the woman gain from this practice other than feeding her own resentment?
The answer is, of course, ‘proof.’ Which means, she would rather be right than happy and loving.
I also know plenty of wonderful step-parents. One in particular who powered through the hate and resentment toward her because, as usual, the girls saw their father’s remarrying as an assault on their mom. (Though they had broken up years earlier.) This stepmom drove them everywhere, signed them up for classes, picked out their clothes, planned fabulous vacations and waited for them to eventually respond to her. And they did, because she didn’t do any of it to look good, she did it because she loved them, cared about them, and took them on as family when she married their father. I have nothing but respect for this beautiful, brilliant, woman. She, and other’s like her, are there, heart and soul, for their new family, and it can sometimes be a thankless job. Just like parenting of any kind. For me, family and love are paramount. My husband would give his life for my children, they know it, he knows it, and if I wasn’t sure of it, I would never have chosen him to be my mate. Not even an option. In fact, in our wedding, he not only made a vow of commitment to my girls, giving them acorn necklaces to echo our acorn and oak leaf rings, but he also made a vow to my mom, giving her a necklace with an oak tree, promising to always take care of her. I did the same for his mother, and if he had had children, they would be my own now. I know this with absolute clarity. He could never have married a woman who wouldn’t.
I’m betting the two resentful women listed above made no mention of their step children in their vows, it wouldn’t have occurred to them.
I know I shouldn’t judge because most people believe they are doing the right thing, though the truth is, they are doing what they are capable of, and for far too many individuals in this world of surfaces and appearances, their capacity for love is sadly overwhelmed by their need to feed their own egos or justify their shortcomings. It costs them, in love, in connection, and in respect, though I don’t suppose those are things they’ve learned to value. I understand that there are people who have different values in the world and people’s behavior usually comes down to how they define themselves. Is it their material things? Is it accomplishments, money, or talent? Is it through the shallow validation of being admired or lauded?
For me, my favorite people are the ones who think of none of those things, they define themselves by the moments of loving and caring and living that create a real connection, and consequently, these people are generally extremely successful in all areas of their lives. Like the ‘good’ stepmom I mentioned above. On top of being an accomplished pianist, speaking several languages, and helping out with several charities, she’s a brilliant, and successful economist. Brilliant.
Happy people are successful. That is the only true measure of success.
So here I sit, with a bad cold that I picked up, no doubt, from my darling 3 year old nephew, and days behind on my new manuscript, but I couldn’t be more delighted, I couldn’t feel richer or more satisfied. Every time I think of playing with trains with my nephew, or the funny things he said, as 3 year olds will do, I smile. My face is sore from smiling. It made me happy to get up at 4:30 a.m. every morning to make tea for my own daughter and see her off to her first real job as a production assistant on a film, and then get up again at 6:30 a.m. to make breakfast and pack a lunch for my 8 year old niece. I was fine with skipping my hike to stay home with my nephew so that my sister could drive her daughter to school and then rush to her old home to finish packing. Then, when my mom went to hospital with chest pains, I packed up the computer, a couple of good books and a scrabble board and headed out again.
And I have to say, I’m so lucky to be able to do these things. They are an honor. The love and trust of anyone else means more than anything else to me.
I suppose I’m writing about this now because of my new book. “Invisible Ellen” is done and in production. It’s the story of a woman, unattractive, orphaned, forgotten and unseen by society or others who makes a couple of friends and takes her first tentative steps into participation in life. That novel is done. But the sequel, which I’m working on now, goes a step further, and in “Emerging Ellen” she must learn to be needed. Perhaps, even to overcome her own horrible upbringing, and make a better life for another unwanted child.
It’s the most frightening thing she can imagine. But I have a sneaky suspicion that she’ll find a way to overcome that fear and her life will open up to embrace it.
Because I believe that’s why we’re here. To connect and care.
What else is there?
So don’t be afraid, take care of someone else, and take care of yourself.
Shari, August 20th, 2013.