Grey sky greets me from the opening where the pale orange curtain parts from the dingy sheer falling to the floor at the side of my dining room window. I strain to find some glimmer of blue but the heavy clouds, with their burden of rain, ice, or snow, block the sun. My heart falls and I think for a moment about the eight-hour drive from Greencastle, Indiana, to Kansas City, and wonder if the Blazer will make the journey without incident.
Seven months into marriage, I still find myself somewhat puzzled at having gone from a family of two to a family of five. The wonder of seeing my stepdaughter walk across a stage, red hair falling in a silky sheath from beneath a mortar board, causes my heart to pound and tears to well in my eyes. I've known this young woman for just over two years and have seen her blossom from someone struggling to find her place in an adult world, to someone poised to conquer. I never doubted that she would reach this point, but I did not anticipate this overwhelming rush of pride.
I cannot deny the strength of feelings that I have for this beautiful young woman who has late come into my life. My son knows that he occupies the first place in my heart, but my stepdaughter and stepson have their own little nooks in that scarred chamber. I've been a stepparent before now, in my first marriage, and not a very good one. I watched my second husband struggle to fit into the nearly impenetrable bond that joins my son and me. I've guided countless clients through the morass of his-mine-ours debates about discipline. I have experienced the pain and pleasure from every direction but one, and I've seen enough to have an inkling of the child's perspective.
With all of that, I nonetheless have been taken very much by surprise at the rise of love which I feel for my stepdaughter. Putting aside the several young women whose younger years coincided with my son's childhood, and whose mothers graciously shared them, she provides my first opportunity for same-gender parenting. She's certainly old enough to need very little hands-on mothering. Still, I have taken full advantage of this chance. I've waited a long time. Though I love my son, I am, after all, the woman who, upon being asked by a helpful clerk if I had gotten what I wanted after standing in the Action Figure aisle for longer than the clerk thought healthy, blurted out, No, I wanted a girl.
I don't doubt that there would have been times when I wished the opposite. I remain convinced that boys cause less daily aggravation. Certainly, they often quickly grow protective of their mothers, as my son did, as my stepson is towards his mother and my son's friends are towards theirs. But something about ribbons, bows, and Barbie dolls makes my stomach clench even now. I have no problem finding Christmas presents for my stepdaughter; in fact, my problem takes the opposite form: stopping myself from getting many more presents for her than for the young men of our family.
I look backwards, with something like sorrow, at the disconnect that broke my relationship with my mother at the start of my college years, which I never quite overcame. I still hear her voice on the telephone, snapping at me, telling me that if you are not home by five o'clock, don't come home at all, occasioning my departure from the family fold just shy of my eighteenth birthday. I never looked back. Though we found a way to communicate, after a fashion, the damage never fully healed. I vividly recall sitting at a restaurant table in the Central West End during graduate school, talking about the silver market and over-sprouted beans, thinking, who is this woman. Had I known she would be gone six years later, I might have tried to find out.
But now I can only gaze at a sepia-tone picture of her dancing in our front yard, and plead with her to tell me what made her heart so glad. In the pages of an old picture album, I find other snapshots from the same day: My grandfather, with his lovely brown skin and tall, sturdy frame; and my brother Frank and me, standing in front of a sheet cake, holding a knife together. I realize that the occasion was a graduation for each of us in the same year. I see the light in her eyes, captured when she least expected, while she looked at me across the room. I am suddenly breathless. This, this, right here in this picture: that is what I felt when Cara walked across that stage last night. A mother's love for her child.
It matters not that she was born of another, who sat in the same auditorium with right of first pride. Nor does it matter that she came from the genes of the man beside me, whose arm I clutched, as I nagged him to quickly hand the camera down to one of the boys so we would not miss the crucial shot. And, finally, that my son was born of me does not diminish my feelings towards my stepdaughter, just as my feelings for her and her brother do not detract from my love of Patrick. Our family has blended.
I glance out the window and am astonished to see that the clouds have scattered, and an azure expanse rises above my neighbor's house. My coffee has been replenished by a man sitting at our table in tennis whites, working a puzzle. In an hour, one of those young women whose lives I have shared will be coming to help me with chores that are beyond my physical ability, and we will have a pleasant hour restoring the Holmes house to cleanliness. Later, when I have done a little shopping and a little fussing over my Christmas list, I will make dinner for the new graduate and her boyfriend, and sometime this evening, my first-born child will arrive for the holiday.
And all will be right with my world, as it turns again, and inches towards the close of another wonderful year.
Congratulations, Cara Withers MacLaughlin, Bachelor of Liberal Arts Magna Cum Laude, 16 December 2011
Saturday, December 17, 2011
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The Missouri Mugwump™
- M. Corinne Corley
- I've been many things in my life: A child, a daughter, a friend; a wife, a mother, a lawyer and a pet-owner. I've given my best to many things and my worst to a few. I live in Brookside, in an airplane bungalow. I'm an eternal optimist and a sometime-poet. If I ever got a poem published in The New Yorker, I would die a happy woman. I'm a proud supporter of the Arts in Kansas City. I vote Democrat, fly the American flag, cry at Hallmark commercials, and recycle.
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