Last Sunday, I was about to jump into the car for church when I received a call. My stepson’s name showed so I answered it. Although it has been nearly 18 years, I am still surprised by belated motherhood. Brian and his fiancée Tracy called to thank me and wish me a “Happy Mother’s Day.” I was a little late for church, but I was not going to let this moment slip away.
That afternoon, my stepdaughter Lisa called. She also thanked me, said she loved me. She was having a hard day, but we talked and prayed together.
Then I called my stepmother, Nichola, who married my father a year after Mama died. I thanked her, this kind woman, for taking good care of my father, who turns 100 this month. She said she considers it an “honor.”
We stepmothers and non-birth mothers can have a dicey role. As a child, having read “Cinderella,” I considered stepmothers a hateful tribe of women and, in one childish moment of irritation, I told my sister that my mother was like “a stepmother!” Sorry, Mama. Sorry, stepmothers.
Like biological mothers, stepmothers vary from kind and supportive, to controlling or resentful. Some are even a pleasant substitute for the natural mother. Some are just kind of extension of a mother figure. I think I am more like that. I hope so.
Life comes with twists. By middle school, I had plotted a timeline for my life, like marrying by 25, producing two or three children by 30. I planned. God laughed, but he was not cruel.
I married late and, given my mother’s voice imprinted in my heart, there was no way I would have a child out of wedlock.
Through my sister or friends or even the PBS show "Call the Midwife," I see the characteristics, some unwelcome, of pregnancy and birth – morning sickness, a kicking baby, along with the pain and possible complications of birth. My mother endured painful deliveries lasting 24 hours.
Despite the pain, I feel like I missed out. On occasion, I have shed tears. I did not grow children who would inherit any of my physical features, or my personality weaknesses and strengths. My archive of family pictures have no inheritors. I have no memories of chicken soup for colds or teen drama. In a peripheral way, I have helped. I loved taking my nieces to a beekeeping demonstration and then baking cookies together. I loved reading “The Three Little Pigs,” but it is not quite the same, especially as my stepchildren “arrived” as adults, fully formed.
Still, a common blood line is unnecessary to produce a family bond. After my mother’s death, I “found” a surrogate mother who gave love, counsel, and even considerable wedding support. I love my children, and the sacrifices are ironically part of the joy. Mama used to say, “It costs you something to get your love across.” I love them and on Mother’s Day, I got to hear them say the same to me.
Interested in a broad range of issues, including social and faith issues, Brickner serves as a regular contributor to the Forum’s opinion page. She is a retired English instructor, having taught in Michigan and Minnesota.