I talked to you twice yesterday, for a half-hour each time. Each conversation ended with you saying, “I love you.” Your sideways half-hugs have turned into full embraces.
I can’t adequately express how happy such outward affection makes me.
Remember when you and Grandma made those turkey magnets out of fake leaves and straw? Mine has stayed on our fridge year-round. One of its googly eyes is missing, but its felt feet and ribbon bow tie are intact. On the back, you wrote, “I like you.”
That was progress.
I always loved you. Even when you weren’t speaking to me. Even when you scratched my face out of a family picture. Even when you slammed the door and said, “You’re not my parent.” Even when we fought about school and grades. Even when you were a teenager and didn’t come home and Dad and I stayed up all night scared to death, wondering where you were.
Through the screaming and tears, I loved you. I wanted the best for you. I wanted, more than anything, for you to be happy. Who would have thought it would be your unplanned pregnancy that would have brought us this close, and brought you so much happiness. It’s been wonderful watching you mature, seeing you and your love share such excitement over being young parents.
Our recent outing to get you some maternity clothes was the most enjoyable shopping trip we’ve ever had. There was no arguing about whether something was too short, too tight, or too expensive. You were so grateful, so concerned about the cost.
You call me to ask about nursing, talk about your doctor’s appointments and your fear about the birth process. Our conversations are more fun, more in-depth, and more meaningful.
You’ve grown up so much since I first met you when you were 5, all freckles and crooked teeth and attitude covering up your sadness. Your dad fought so hard to bring you to live with us, and you couldn’t wait. When we showed up at the appointed time, you were sitting on the curb with your grandma, all your belongings ready to be loaded right into the car for the five-hour drive to our house.
You were so excited to move to a new city with your dad. You weren’t quite as excited about having a stepmom.
I never envisioned myself in that role either. But I met your sweet dad and his beautiful daughter, and I never thought twice about bringing you home. I wanted to immediately envelope you in love and make our home yours, this family yours. I dreamed of your future, made plans for you, considered you mine.
At our wedding, I wanted to include a special time to symbolize not only our marriage, but the coming together of this family. I searched for the perfect gift, and when you joined us at the altar, we gave you a silver charm bracelet with three hearts on it – one for each of us – and I promised to have and to hold you, in good times and bad.
There were plenty of both as you and I got to know each other. I think we’ll both admit we’ve survived some tumultuous times, and that we’ve come out stronger and more appreciative of the other.
I had a lot to learn. There’s no stepmom manual, so I did what felt right. I figured if I did all the things with you that I remembered doing with my mom, that it would make us mother and daughter. I bought you my favorite books from my childhood – like “Free to be You and Me,” and “Where the Sidewalk Ends.” Each has an inscription I wrote and dated, starting with the first Christmas I knew you, the first birthday I celebrated with you. But you didn’t want to cuddle and read with me, didn’t like it when I sang, “Good morning, good morning!” when I woke you up for school.
You never really liked my silly songs, and rolled your eyes at my jokes. You only wanted Dad to tuck you in at night, so I just told you – as my parents did every night when I was growing up: “Sleep tight, see you in the morning, love you, good night.”
You never said it back, but I kept trying.
On every vacation or holiday, I chose a special charm for that wedding bracelet that reminded me of you, of where you were in your life at that time: a scooter, a soccer ball, a sand castle.
I planned birthday parties at Chuck E. Cheese and skating rinks, made that Sponge Bob Halloween costume and had your friends over. I cheered the first time you crossed the monkey bars by yourself, took you on your first plane ride, and bought you pads when your period started. I brought you to my office on “Take Your Daughter to Work Day,” went to school conferences, filled your Christmas stockings and Easter baskets with your favorite things, and took you to the orthodontist to get your braces put on.
All these efforts, hoping to prove to you that I really did have your back and find the thing that really connected us.
You were so different from me when I was younger. Slender and naturally athletic, with shiny, long chestnut hair and dark eyes, you’re a natural beauty who fit perfectly in skinny jeans and bikinis. I was a chubby, self-conscious girl who always had to shop in the plus size section and hated buying clothes.
I tried every sport and was more than once voted “Most inspirational,” because I put in such effort without ever really being good. You excelled at every sport you attempted. You ran across the soccer field with such speed I was in awe, and you made the volleyball team even though you had never played before.
And through it all, even our happiest days, you longed for your mom. I wondered, why is all she has with us not enough? Not her own room, decorated especially for her, not the undefeated basketball and volleyball teams, not the BFF she texts with incessantly, not the little brother who adores her.
Even with all the counseling, all the talking, I don’t think I saw things from your point of view as well as I should have. I thought I did, but I learned that I was giving you what I thought you needed, without really knowing what you needed. I’m sorry I didn’t understand it as well as I should have from your perspective. I know how hard it was to be torn between your life here with us and your life there with them. I did the best I could, and I hope you know that. I know you wish you had done some things differently as well.
My heart did ache for you when you asked for your mom during the years she couldn’t be there for you. When you cried endlessly in the car after a visit. And that same heart was truly broken when you left us years later to move in with your mom. We knew you deserved the chance to be with her, but I don’t think you knew how hard it was to let you go, how much I cried at your empty room.
I’m so happy your mom found her way back to you, that she is a strong support and that we all now have a friendly relationship. It means so much to me to be recognized along with her as your baby’s grandma, to have a photo of you standing between your mom and dad from your baby shower.
I know you’re going to be a good mom, because I saw how you were with your baby brother – so tender, so careful, so loving. Being his mom taught me a lot about being a step-parent, like how much those first years matter – years when you had no idea who I was – and how kids become who they are so early in life. And how as much as your heart swells with love for your children, all kids and parents get annoyed with each other sometimes, step or not.
You’ll understand it more when your daughter is here – I think you already do – how our children bring us so much joy, and some heartache as well. Sometimes you’ll want her to do things your way, and she’ll have her own ideas, and you’ll know how your parents felt. It happens to all of us when we grow up and look back.
We can’t wait to meet our granddaughter in just a matter of hours. I will hold her and squeeze her and tell her, “Sleep tight. See you in the morning. I love you. Good night.” Maybe you’ll start saying it to her too.
And you can call me when she’s a teenager.
I love you,
Katherine (AKA Grandma)
EPILOGUE: I sent this to my stepdaughter and she said it was OK to post. And she wrote me the best note:
“I’m sorry for the bad times. I didn’t realize what I had was good. I am so grateful that you were/are in my life because my life would be completely different if you weren’t there. Thank you so much for being there when my mom wasn’t. And still being here for me after it all.”
We have come a long way.
(This post originally appeared on Ravishly.)