So those of you who know my story, know that one day I became a full-time mom overnight. It was fast and furious, life-changing and terrifying all at once.
I loved my kids instantly and vice versa. That was never a problem. But there was a major issue that I had to face: I didn’t have the motherly instincts that came along with parenting – since I didn’t have them since birth.
And no one I knew had been through this type of experience. I felt very alone. Very isolated. And very unprepared. I didn’t fit in with the other moms. I couldn’t share birthing stories, or talk about the pains of my pregnancy. I couldn’t laugh and say that my daughter had my nose and my son had my hair line.
I couldn’t relate to the moms I saw at school meetings and I knew they couldn’t relate to me. I had spent the last five years on planes being a consultant. They had spent those years giving birth, bonding with their children and reading parenting books. They were prepared and I was…well, I was lost.
I didn’t know the difference between Children’s Tylenol and Motrin. I always screwed up the “starve a fever and feed a cold” saying – and to be honest, I wasn’t exactly sure what the thermometer should read – was it 96.5 or 98.6? And don’t get me started on the shots – the dTaP, tetanus, flu shots. When the pediatricians would ask me to explain the kids’ history of family illness or give their blood types, I would pretend my cell phone was ringing so I could leave the room and pray they would forget to ask again.
To say I was overwhelmed would be an understatement. And it was hard to admit that to my husband. I was a woman – shouldn’t I have been born with this type of knowledge ingrained in me? What type of woman was I? I was ashamed that this didn’t come naturally to me. And as each day went by, I felt more alone.
And it all came to a head one rainy, Saturday morning – as I stood on the sidelines of my daughter’s first soccer game and watched mortified. I hadn’t checked the weather that morning. And she was the only 7 year-old on the field without a raincoat as the clouds dumped water all over us. And to make matters worse, I stood on the sidelines as the only parent without an umbrella of her own and let the rain droplets hide the silent tears that streamed down my face.
Right at that moment – that particular second – I will share with all of you something that I have never even said out loud. Right there and then, I wanted to run. I wanted to sprint back to my adult life in Chicago where the only concern I had was what sushi bar I was going to meet my friends at that evening. I wanted to click my heels and be back on a plane to a noisy and busy city where a train took me everywhere I needed to go. I wanted to go back to my old life where I was only responsible for myself.
And then something happened – a mom put her umbrella over my head and stood next to me. I could barely glance at her – did she know what I was feeling inside? Did she know I wanted to run and leave this poor, sweet, innocent child on the field and never look back?
She introduced herself and simply covered me for the rest of the game. She made a kind joke about how much fun my daughter must be having playing in the rain – without a stupid coat to inhibit her.
By the end of the game, I was able to whisper the words I had been bottling up for a few months now – “I don’t know what I’m doing.” And with that, she slipped her business card in my hand and told me to call her. She assured me that we had much more in common than I would think. She patted my shoulder and walked away, knowing that wasn’t the time to talk. I never glanced back to see what she looked like but I tucked the card in my pocket and vowed to call her soon.
A few weeks went by before I reached out to her but we soon met and I quickly learned that my new friend had become a guardian to four kids, overnight, just like me. Her sister had passed and she was awarded full custody of four children ages 3, 6, 10 and 14 (who she barely knew). And instantly, I never wanted to leave her side.
Over the next year, she helped me with the typical stepmom issues. For instance, I had to bring paperwork everywhere I went – to show I was a legal guardian. I had to fill out school forms in a certain way and I had to always be sure to have a lawyer on speed dial. The court dates seemed to never end and she would always give me a pep talk on the phone and remind me that eventually the system would get it right.
And those were just the early years – when it was about paperwork and process. We soon moved on to tackling the emotional issues that come along with kids coming from a broken home. The nightmares, the fears, the memories and the heartaches.
I would lie in bed with my daughter and son and talk to them about their biological mother with a strong voice and a firm hug. Minutes later I would call my friend in tears, barely being able to breathe. How was I going to make it through this? How was I going to help them? And we always talked until we figured it out. Together.
There were tough love talks – telling me to be stronger. There were warm-hearted meetups where she would hug me and tell me I was doing the right thing. And then there were just screaming sessions where I would vent and cry. Always she was there. With kind eyes and open ears.
I would like to think I helped her a bit too. She was still working through issues and I did my best to always be there. We always had an unwritten rule (and still do) – if one of us would call and say we needed to talk – we dropped everything and went. No questions asked.
Because here’s the real issue - there are no books for stepmoms. There is no manual for the crap that gets thrown at you. There are no stepmom bump groups or support groups. And if you don’t find someone that can help guide you through it – you may actually follow the only instinct that is properly working for you – and run.
I think back to that Saturday morning almost 8 years ago. What would I have done if my friend hadn’t walked over and covered me from the rain? I would like to think I would have stayed and figured it all out. Honestly, I’m not so sure.
And as I sit typing this blog – as my kids are eating cereal, laughing around me – I know she truly saved me. Only the way a guardian angel does. When I talk about my friend, I always refer to her as the person who saved my life.
I’m hoping my friend reads this blog and for once, understands what she did for me.
So this is my thank you – and my reminder to other parents out there. When you’re at school functions or community events – look for the moms and dads who are standing a bit off to the side. Take note when you see a parent with tears in their eyes for no apparent reason. Strike up a conversation with the mom who is trying to read every piece of paper given to her furiously and nervously.
You may just change a life – and convince a step parent to fight their instincts.