Sunday, October 4, 2015

Confessions of a Naïve Step-Mom

Following our nuptials in April of 1994, my husband Bob and I had planned a spectacular 10-day honeymoon in Hawaii.  The only challenge: who would stay with my newly inherited step-daughter Jessica? 

At 18, and only 10 years my junior, Jessica certainly had the maturity and responsibility to stay on her own for a day or two.   However, we both felt 10 days just seemed too long to leave her alone.  Fortunately, my mother-in-law agreed to come in from her home on New York’s Long Island and keep her oldest granddaughter company.  The only caveat, a prior commitment meant she had to return home a day before Bob and I flew back into Philadelphia.  Jessica would be by herself for 24 hours, how bad could that be?

The answer to that question would come a few years later.

While giving our living room bookshelf a much overdo dusting, I came across Jessica’s high school year book.  I put down my sponge, settled on the couch and started flipping through the pages, smiling at images of Jessica and her friends.  It seemed nearly every blank space had been filled in by fellow seniors wishing her well.  Most of the messages were the fairly standard, “Good luck in college”  “Have a great summer”, and “I’ll miss you.”  However, one tiny note scrawled in the corner of the page caught my eye.  

Dear Jessica,
     I will never forget your, “My Parents are on Their Honeymoon” toga party!

We left her alone for one day.  ONE DAY!

Seems I had entered into the mother-daughter relationship with the proverbial “rose colored glasses”.  After my first few dates with Bob, I imagined Jessica and me becoming the best of friends.  “She’ll be the Maid of Honor at our wedding,” I told my friend Fern, who naturally assumed I had become quite delusional.   “Lisa,” she said, bringing me back to reality, “you haven’t even met her yet!”

The truth of the matter is, Jessica did take her place as Maid of Honor on our wedding day, but the journey to that wonderful occasion did not include the bonding that I had imagined.

The first inkling that shattered my skewed view of life as a step-mom came not long after Bob and I got engaged and I had officially moved in.  One Saturday afternoon when I found myself home alone, I noticed that Jessica had left her normally shut tight bedroom door slightly ajar.  I tiptoed into the room, which played host to my step-daughter’s incredible creativity.   Every inch of the four walls were covered with magazine posters of handsome young actors and the latest guitar strumming rock bands, hand crafted paintings, sappy poems, photos with friends demonstrating the silliest of poses, and drawings of the moon and the stars that glowed florescent when one turned off the light.

Impressed, I later told her how much I liked her bedroom.  Apparently, Jessica did not appreciate the compliment.   The next day, a photo of a vicious Doberman pinscher guard dog appeared on a sign taped to her bedroom door, with the following threatening message:  KEEP OUT, THIS MEANS YOU! 

Oh, can you feel the love?!

Poor Bob, forced to play tug of war with the two women in his life.  Jessica privately complained to Bob about me, and I, in turn, kept him at full attention with my rants about her.   Fortunately, my husband had the wisdom to know that the two women he loved would be able to work it out.  And in the end….through the angry tears and shouting matches, we grew to love each other, and work it out we did!

Over years later, Jessica is a Washington D.C.-based union lobbyist fighting for the rights of working individuals.  I have watched her evolve into a beautiful, poised, and professional young woman who constantly demonstrates a fierce love for her family and an unwavering commitment to her work. 

My adorable grandson Miles!
She and her husband Brian recently welcomed their first baby (and our first grandchild) Miles. 

Today, we laugh about our early years together and my foray into the world of becoming an instant parent to a teenage girl. 

However, those early years with Jessica did help me prepare for the wonderful, daily teen drama and angst brought to me courtesy of my own teenager, the love of my life Melissa.

Today, the posters, poems, and pictures now adorn Melissa’s bedroom walls, as she is well on her way to following in the footsteps of the big sister she adores.  As for me, if she ends up anything like Jessica, I know she’ll be perfect!  Two beautiful daughters, what more could a mother want!  

My beautiful daughter Jessica and me!

*This post originally appeared in February, 2012. It has been modified slightly from the original version.

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  1. This is so sweet!!! I can't imagine how difficult that adjustment was for the both of you. Great story!

    1. Hi Kathy - I credit Bob with making the adjustment work, he was so patient....goodness what a guy!