4: Step by Step

4: Step by Step

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Amazing Mom

Step by Step

Stepparents are not around to replace a biological parent, rather to augment a child’s life experience.

~Azriel Johnson

I suppose it wasn’t easy for either of us in the beginning. Welcoming an out-of-control fifteen-year-old boy into one’s home would be difficult for any stepmom. Walking into a new family in a different house in a strange city could tip any teenager over the edge. It did for me, but Judy placed her apprehension aside and embraced me. She saw the good in me, even if it lay buried under years of pain and distrust.

It certainly helped that three great kids came with her. The two boys and I hit it off right away. They were athletes even at a young age, and we played indoors and out every day. The older daughter pecked at me whenever she could, but I gave as good as I got. We all grew close over time.

Judy was a busy working mom, but she always made time to inquire about her kids’ worlds. I don’t think it was idle conversation either; Judy always showed genuine interest.

She and my dad met at the tail end of two troubled marriages. They loved each other enough to throw everything into a bag, shake well, and plow ahead with life. They began as two adults with three kids. Then I came along, and after that one of my brothers. They bought a bigger house, got everyone situated, and ran with it.

I remember one day talking with Judy’s sister on the phone. We got onto the subject of my mom and dad’s split, and I mentioned how sad I felt for my mom. “But isn’t it wonderful that your dad is happy now?” she said. I’d never thought about it like that before. From then on, I saw Judy in a new way—as a companion for my dad, a guy who’d had his own share of troubles. I began to love her as a person and as my stepmother.

I trudged through high school and community college, and flailed around here and there, not really accomplishing anything. I’m sure Judy and Dad had a few conversations about me, but I think Judy always saw the spark. Judy always looked for the good in everyone.

I stumbled through my “idiot years,” as I like to call them. Everyone threw up their hands, and rightly so, but I’d like to think Judy held onto a silent hope that maybe I’d finally straighten myself out. I can see it in her eyes these days, and in that beautiful smile: true happiness and honest motherly pride. I’m a university professor and an author of children’s fantasy novels.

She knows how much I love my cats. She e-mails me pictures and videos of cute felines, and buys me kitty-cat Christmas presents. One year, she bought me a 365-day magnetized kitten calendar for the refrigerator—a simple gift, but one with great meaning for me.

Judy sends birthday cards to everyone in the family; she never forgets. She gets as much pleasure out of it as the recipients. She also loves to entertain. Having the clan over for Christmas is a joy for her. The family has grown substantially—eight kids, most with their own kids. Throw in grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and you could have the neighbor’s kids at the party and no one would ever know. And no one plays Santa better than Judy.

She takes care of my dad now; he’s ninety-five years old and surprisingly alert, but physically slowing down. I’m sure it’s doubly tough on her; she has to watch a man she loves deteriorate before her eyes, and she’s taken on the lion’s share of the domestic workload. I wish I could pay her back for all the little things she’s done by sending a maid over twice a month.

For now, it will have to be simple gestures. We held a family birthday party recently. I sat and talked with her grandson, a young man who lost his father a couple of years ago. He has challenges ahead of him, but with the right nudge he might find his path.

Judy sent me an e-mail thanking me for spending time with him, but I recognized that I was just like that grandson way back when. Everyone needs someone to talk to about life’s challenges. I think Judy sees the same spark in him that she saw in me many years ago. I’m sure she’ll never give up on him either.

We talk periodically. Whether by e-mail or by phone, I can always envision her smile in the background. On different days, that smile might be directed at her husband, her children, friends, co-workers, or the hostess at a restaurant. She gives it away freely. Judy wants everyone she meets to be happy.

Sometimes, I felt self-imposed pressure to refer to Judy as my mother, especially since my own mom passed some years ago. However, I now realize the folly in that idea. Judy is my stepmom, and she’s fulfilled her role with dignity, patience, and deep devotion. I love her for being exactly that, and I feel privileged that she became a part of my life more than forty years ago.

~Kevin Gerard

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