18: A Positive Step

18: A Positive Step

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: For Mom, with Love

A Positive Step

The first step binds one to the second.

~French Proverb

“I don’t want her to come,” I whispered conspiratorially to my brother. At fourteen, he was three years older and, from my eleven-year-old perspective, much braver than me. Not only did I look up to him, but I trusted him to stand up for me, and to speak for me when I was too afraid. And he did.

“Dad,” he said to our father from across the tiny apartment. “We really just want it to be the three of us.”

It was Fourth of July weekend, and we were heading downtown to watch the fireworks. Me, my brother, my dad, a blanket to sit on, a cooler filled with soda pop, and fireworks to light up the sky were on my agenda. My dad’s girlfriend was not part of my plan.

My father was angry. And hurt. He had been dating Mary for several months and he wanted us to accept her. We saw her as competition. What little time we had with him, we didn’t want to share. Not only was I protective of my time with my dad, but I worried about my mom, too. In my own mind I thought that if I let myself like Mary, I’d be hurting my mom. My dad had already decided that he liked her better than my mom. What if my mom thought we liked her better, too?

Dad remarried a few years later, but it took me much longer than that to even give Mary a fair chance. She was always kind to my brother and me. But, I think I held back from a false sense of loyalty to Mom.

Twenty years later, while my husband and I were in the midst of our own divorce, my boys, nine and seven, came home from a visit with their dad in tears. They confided in me that their dad had sat them down earlier in the day and told them he had a girlfriend. Patty, he told them, would be spending quite a bit of time with them. I knew the boys thought she was nice. I knew that if they decided not to like her, it might be because they somehow felt that they needed to, out of loyalty to me. I didn’t want my kids to make the same mistake I did.

You see Mary has been like a second mother to me. She takes nothing away from my mom, who is wonderful in her own right, but Mary has been another person in my life who I can lean on. Technically, I am Mary’s stepdaughter. But when she looks at me, she sees no “step” — she sees someone she loves, someone she’d do anything for — and she has. She has been there for me through thick and thin. And she loves my kids the same way their biological grandparents do.

So when my boys looked at me that night and told me about Patty, I thought about all the years I’d wasted being angry with Mary. I could finally see some good coming out of that difficult time.

“Guys, listen,” I said to my boys. “I know exactly what you’re going through.” They both rolled their eyes. “No, really.” I tucked a foot under me and leaned forward. “After my mom and dad got divorced, my dad got a girlfriend.”

“Papa had a girlfriend?” asked seven-year-old Jack. Now they were both interested.

“Yep. And I didn’t like her at all. I was afraid that she would try to be my new mom. And I already had a mom I loved very much. I was scared. And I thought if I liked her it would make my mom sad. And she was already sad.”

They both nodded, completely familiar with the emotions that I had gone through all those years ago when I was eleven.

“Well, I guess I just wish my mom would have told me it was okay to like my dad’s girlfriend, because it turns out she was a really neat person and I wasn’t nice to her for a very long time, because no one ever told me it was okay.”

The room was quiet. My boys looked at each other and then at me.

“Guys? Do you know who that girlfriend was?” They both shook their heads.

“Your Grandma Mary.” Nine-year-old Connor looked at me with big, round eyes.

“Grandma Mary?” exclaimed Jack. “Wow!”

“Yep. Can you even imagine your life without Grandma Mary in it?”

“No,” they said in unison.

“So,” I said, taking each of their little hands in mine. “I want to tell you right now that it’s absolutely okay for you to like Patty. You are not going to hurt my feelings. And you are not going to make me sad if you enjoy your time with her and your dad. She’s a nice person, and as long as she’s nice to the two of you and your little sister, then that’s all I care about. Okay?”

I got big hugs that night. As a child going through the pain and sadness of my own parents’ divorce, I couldn’t possibly have imagined that one day I would actually be grateful for that experience. But, all these years later, it turned out to be a wonderful gift that I was able to give my own children. Everything happens for a reason, and now I finally understood that what I had gone through as a child had given me the tools to help my own children when they needed it most.

~Beth M. Wood

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