They are 5 and 4 years old. A sweet, thoughtful girl, and a rambunctious, hilarious boy. I know their laughter in the midst of a playground full of children, and I know their cry. I know their fears, and I know what brings joy to their faces. I know when they’re lying and when they truly mean it when they say “I’m sorry.” But they don’t call me Mom.
They argue with me and ignore me. They talk back and throw fits. They ask me to read to them, color with them, and beg me to let them watch one show before bed. They grump at me when I ask them to clean up and laugh with me when I try to make it fun instead of fighting about it. They tell me about their dreams and climb into my bed in the early mornings. But they don’t call me Mom.
They ask me to tuck them in, read them a story, and check on them before I go to bed. I hear them when they cry in the night, and I sit with them when they’re sick. I know just how much sugar they can have before their dad and I will really regret it. But they don’t call me Mom.
I miss them when they’re gone, and the house is 400 times quieter than when they’re here. When my husband picks them up, they ask to call me from the truck with an excited, “we’re going to see you soon!” as if I don’t have the parenting schedule memorized, holidays and vacation switches included. I have a running list of things they need in my head, and a running list of concerns related to health, habits, and behaviors that I’d love to have more than one-third of their time to address. I think about their future spouses and children and the affect they will have on the world. But they don’t call me Mom.
We didn’t bond in utero or over late night feedings- bottle or breast, or long months of all-nighters when they were newborns. We bonded over awkward first meetings, timeouts, hide and seek, and chores. We bonded over wedding plans, girls’ days, and arguments. Blossoming language and potty training. We’ve even bonded over one very loud “YOU’RE NOT MY MOTHER,” and too many threenager power struggles. We’ve bonded over heartfelt chats about the fact that they don’t call me Mom, how they only have one mom and one dad, and both will always love them and spend time with them.
Despite having my own step mother for the better part of my life, becoming one myself is an entirely different experience. An eye-opening one that has brought laughter and tears, joy and sadness. It gives new light to the struggles that I had with my own stepmother (although they were nothing compared to the struggles I had with my “real” mom). It makes me even more grateful for that same stepmom, who taught me that while difficult, like all relationships, it’s possible to love someone else’s child as much as you love your own.
Very soon, the kids will have spent more of their life with me in it than without. The youngest likely won’t remember a time when I haven’t been around, and the oldest will struggle to. I will be around for the first days of kindergarten and all the years following. I will be there for first dates and first heartbreaks. Graduations, weddings, and babies. I don’t anticipate that it will be easy, and I’m quite sure I will hear “YOU’RE NOT MY MOTHER” uttered many more times in my lifetime.
I know we will continue to “bond” over power struggles, and I will continue to wonder if I’m doing anything right or everything wrong. Ultimately, I hope they will know that while I am not their mother, I will love and support them as if I were. I am hopeful that, like my stepmother and me, we will all be better off because of our relationship with each other. That, like all mothers hope and pray, their children’s lives will be better because of them, and that they will come to treasure the unique relationship that we have.
They don’t call me Mom. They call me Brookie. And it’s pretty awesome.