23. High Hopes

23. High Hopes

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Forgiveness

High Hopes

A stepmother might have to rise above a little more than everyone else to make everything go smoothly and for everyone to feel comfortable. It’s one of the nicest gifts they could give.

~Elizabeth Howell

“You’re not my mother. I’m not calling you Mom!” he shouted. “And I don’t like coming here every other weekend.”

When my eight-year-old stepson directed those words at me, a wave of anguish swept over me. “It’s okay to call me by my first name,” I said as I fought back the tears. “Your dad and I love you and the time you spend with us.”

“I still don’t like you,” he scoffed while playing with two favorite Star Wars action figures. “And I’m not making my bed or doing any chores, because I don’t live here.”

I ignored his rants and was determined to make it a pleasant weekend. “I know how much you love Star Wars. Would you like to go shopping for Star Wars posters and a bedspread for your room?” I asked.

“Okay, let’s go!” he yelled, a grin on his face. I felt a tug on my heartstrings—he looked just like his dad—the same mischievous grin, thick red hair and freckles scattered across his nose.

While we shopped, he talked about his mom, dad and school friends, and confided how every other weekend visitations disrupted his life. He’d never opened up to me like that before. I admit it was a form of bribery, but I took advantage of the opportunity and gave in when he asked for duplicate Star Wars posters and bedspreads for both households.

On the ride back to his mom’s house that evening, he chose the passenger seat to be near his dad. From the back seat, I listened to them discuss the statistics of football legends, players, coaches and managers. Excitement ensued, because they had tickets for an Oakland Raiders and San Francisco 49ers exhibition game. I marveled at their bonding over football.

When we reached our destination, I was pleased my stepson smiled and thanked me for the Star Wars gifts. But my moment of bliss was short-lived when he hugged his dad goodbye. “Please come back home and live with Mom and me,” he begged, and then raced to join his mom, who was waving to us from the front porch.

On the drive home, my husband pondered what to do to make his son feel welcome in our home. It’d been five years since the divorce and we’d been married for a little over a year. “We have to be patient,” I offered. “Every book I’ve read on step-parenting states it takes time to have a harmonious household and become a blended family.

My husband had a heart-to-heart talk with his son during the Raiders and 49ers game. After the football weekend, I asked about the father-son conversation. My husband spared the details and my feelings. “I told him he’ll love you as much as I do once he gets to know you.” I smiled, choked back the tears and pretended my feelings weren’t hurt.

As I drove the ten miles to work that morning, I couldn’t control the tears streaming down my face. When I reached the office, I touched up my make-up and whispered to myself in the mirror, “Be patient. Don’t give up hope.”

Visitation weekends improved when we let my stepson choose what he wanted to do. Saturday breakfasts at his favorite diner, movies, baseball and bowling made him happy.

But as he grew older, the more homework he was assigned. Weekly spelling words and multiplication tables had to be scheduled in between weekend activities. Suddenly, weekends entailed angry outbursts aimed at me. I was the villain—my husband’s attempts to smooth the relationship failed.

When I heard Spider-Man was my stepson’s latest phase, I made him an elaborate red and blue Spider-Man costume for Halloween, embellished with black fishnet and rubber spiders. “I think I’ll win first prize at the school parade,” he said when he tried on the costume. Since there was no animosity between my husband’s ex-wife and me, I was invited to the Halloween parade. We were all elated when Spider-Man took first place.

That evening my husband gave me a high five. “Today, you sure scored stepmom points.”

After that, weekend visits were amiable. My stepson joined a little league team and we attended the games. Occasionally, weekends included birthday parties or sleepovers with friends. He was growing up.

The seventh grade proved to be a challenge for my stepson. Since our school district provided tutoring and special classes for students working below grade level in reading and math, it was agreed he’d move into our home and visit his mom every other weekend.

Seventh grade at the new school wasn’t easy. He detested the special classes and extra homework. It was a battle I wasn’t winning, but I didn’t give up. Almost daily he shouted, “I hate you and the stupid school!” Eventually, he made new friends, his grades improved, the school year was bearable and he tolerated me. High hopes prevailed.

However, during summer vacation he had a change of heart and pleaded to return to his mom’s house and attend eighth grade at his former school. The eighth grade was a bumpy ride for him.

That fall, he returned to our house and entered ninth grade at the neighborhood high school. He made the football team and was positive it’d be a good year. But before the end of the season his grades plummeted, making him ineligible to play. He packed his bags and insisted on going back to live and attend high school in the old neighborhood.

After that move, he chose to meet only his dad for breakfast at a diner near his home. No explanation was given for excluding me, not even to his dad or mom. My heart ached, but I refused to believe he wanted to banish me from his life forever.

Regretfully, yo-yo schooling and living took their toll. After my stepson and his parents met with a school counselor, it was agreed he should obtain a GED and enter junior college.

He studied hard and earned his GED. But he quickly lost interest in junior college and all part-time jobs, informing us he was moving to Hilo, Hawaii to find himself. We tried to discourage the move, to no avail. “Don’t worry, I’m going with a couple who know the island,” he said. “We’ll find jobs, sleep on the beach and rough it.”

It was a worrisome two months before postcards and photos arrived in our mailbox. We breathed a sigh of relief when we knew he had a job, a roof over his head and was learning to surf.

Three years later he returned to the States. When we picked him up at the airport, it was obvious he’d become an independent, confident young man.

He greeted us with a smile and a group hug. “I’m so happy to see you guys!” he shouted, then turned to me. “Mom, your brat’s home. Can you ever forgive me for how badly I treated you?”

Tears welled in my eyes and I returned the hug. “Son, all’s forgiven. I always had high hopes you wanted me in your life.”

Indeed, patience and time healed all wounds.

~Georgia A. Hubley

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