SOMEBODY ELSE'S CHILDREN

SOMEBODY ELSE'S CHILDREN

From Chicken Soup for the Mother's Soul 2

Somebody Else’s Children

I am often told what beautiful children I have. Many people even comment that they look like me. Pamela, my daughter, I am told has my blue eyes; my son James has my red hair. The truth of the matter is Pamela has her father’s eyes, and James, well, his hair color was inherited from his mother—his biological mother. James and Pamela are my husband’s children, and I am their stepmother.

Shortly after I met my husband, Carl, his children came for a visit. The visit was to last for two weeks, and then the children would return to their mother. When the two weeks came to an end, their mother called to say she had a job working in a resort community. She would be living in a room provided by the hotel where she worked. The children would have to stay with us until the end of the summer.

But by the end of summer the children’s mother had joined the military, and again, they could not live with her. The military does not accept single parents who do not have somebody living with them to care for their children.

Although their mother’s military career did not last through basic training, for a variety of reasons, she never returned for them. Carl and I realized the children were going to stay with us, permanently. I can’t say I was thrilled by this realization. I had not wanted children of my own, and raising someone else’s children did not appeal to me.

The kids weren’t crazy about the idea either. Months earlier, when they had first arrived for their visit, I had been quickly made aware of their feelings toward me. “You’re not my mommy! I want my mommy!” they had often shouted at me. After a couple of weeks or so of this, I grew to hate the word “mommy.” Then, one day everything changed.

James, who was three years old at the time, had been in the middle of one of his “mommy tantrums” when he suddenly stopped screaming and looked up at me. His face was filled with terror and sadness. “I don’t have a mommy no more,” he calmly told me.

“James, you do have a mommy,” I told him. He didn’t believe me, looking at me as if I was crazy.

“No, I don’t. Her went away.” It was hard to defy his three-year-old logic.

“James, your mommy wants to be with you, but she can’t right now. She has to work.” When the children asked about their mommy, we had decided this was the best way to explain.

“I don’t have no mommy.” Fat tears began to roll down his cheeks, and I was beginning to panic. This child needed to know he had a mother, and I didn’t know how to make him believe me. I knelt down to wipe the tears from his face.

“Are you my mommy?” he asked. At that moment, I wished that kids came with a manual. I needed answers— fast.

“I’m whatever you want me to be,” I said and prayed I was saying the right thing. “No matter what that is. I’ll be your friend, and I’ll love you.” At that moment, I realized that I meant every word I had just said. I did love this child.

James seemed to be satisfied with the explanation I had given him and as quickly as his questions began, they ended. James went outside to play, while I was left to figure out what had just happened.

With Pamela, it had been easier, once we’d come to an understanding. One day while watching television, Pamela looked up at the photographs hanging on the wall. She identified each person in the pictures and who they were to her. When she reached the one of her father, she told me “my daddy.”

“Yes, that is Daddy,” I told her. My response did not seem to satisfy her.

My daddy!” Pamela said again, pointing to herself. I suddenly understood what she was trying to tell me.

“Pamela,” I began, “I don’t want to take your daddy away. I know you love him, but I love him, too. Maybe if you will let me, we can both love him. Can we share, if I promise never to take your daddy away from you?”

“Okay. We can share.” Pamela was smiling at me. “We both love my daddy.”

Carl and I married Christmas Day, the children standing next to us while we exchanged vows. They quickly began telling anyone who would listen, “We got married.” I suppose “we” did. Then shortly after the wedding, James and I cleared the mommy issue up once and for all.

It was his fourth birthday, and I had taken the children to the grocery store to get a few things for the party. James, excited about his birthday, was talking a mile a minute. Exactly what he was talking about, I doubt I’ll ever remember, because James had said one word that had immediately caught my attention, and I didn’t hear anything else he had to say. When James realized what he had said he looked up at me. “I called you Mommy,” he giggled.

“Yes, I know.” I was trying to behave as if nothing out the ordinary had just happened.

“I’m sorry.” James twisted his mouth a bit.

“You don’t have to be sorry,” I explained. “I don’t mind if you call me Mommy.”

“Are you my mommy, too?” Why couldn’t he just once ask an easy question?

“I’m like a mommy, but you have your mother, and she is your mommy. As I told you before, I am whatever you want me to be.”

“Okay, Mommy,” James said, smiling at me. He was telling me what he wanted.

Recently, James came home from school with a drawing he’d done. “Look what I made for you, Mommy. It’s our family. This one is you.”

As I looked at the paper he handed me, I felt the tears begin to form in my eyes. He had drawn four red stick figures, holding hands and smiling. James was telling me in his own wonderful way that I am not raising someone else’s children—I am raising my children.

Trudy Bowler

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