Open, But Not Expecting




I married my husband, and my step-daughter, in 2003, when she was six years old. I read vows to her that day, before our family and friends. I promised to love her and be there for her and treat her as if she were my own. I never wanted her to feel like a ‘step’ kid. I planned birthday parties, I cheered at middle school volleyball games and I took her to the doctor when she was sick.  When meeting new people, I introduced myself as her “Mom” and I introduced her as my “daughter.”

When she was fourteen, she and I broke up.

It seemed like it happened in one day, but really, it had been happening all along.  This time, we were fighting the same fight about her complete and remarkable inability to turn off her bathroom light.

I pulled over to the side of the road and told her, “Get out of my car!” She said, “I hate you! I keep telling you that and you don’t think I mean it, but I do!” As she started walking home, I yelled after her and called her a bitch. Then I called her Dad and told him I didn’t want her living in our house anymore.

Yes, I was also a bitch.

Our extremely blunt therapist asked me just what I was expecting as a Step-Mom anyway.

I told him about the picture in my mind of an extended family dinner for her high school graduation. The picture is seen through a soft focus camera lens and there is pretty music playing in the background. I sense the feeling of that night, that she and I love and respect each other deeply and that I have helped her grow to be a strong and kind person.

Our therapist said with a smirk, “Really? Isn’t that kind of a lot?”

After thinking about it, I could see his point. Maybe my high expectations were like showing up to a dinner date wearing a wedding dress. And in my case, my date was already married.

Because, she already has a Mom.

She loves her Mom.

She doesn’t want another Mom.

She tried to tell me this a hundred million times before I finally, really heard her.

But wait a second, how unfair is this shit?

So, I need to be there in the hospital, when she is eight, on the day they tell us she is a type-1 diabetic who will need to prick her finger and take a shot four times a day for the rest of her life. And when the nurse starts to give her that first shot, I lunge for the nurse, I tackle her to the ground and I punch her in the head, because I don’t want anybody to hurt her.

But this was all in my mind, so I secretly slipped into her hospital bed, under the sheets, with just my arm sticking out, so I can take the shots for her.

But that was all in my mind too. Well, at least I could stay with her in the hospital overnight, holding her in my arms while she sleeps, but I couldn’t do that either. Her Mom and Dad took turns doing that.

And I need to do all the errand running for the all-white, button-up, short-sleeve, with-a-collar, size-small shirt she needs for band the very next day, fighting over setting the table and clearing the table and cleaning her room so you can see the floor and saving money for college that will cost about one million dollars by the time she gets there, but there isn’t a present for me on Mother’s Day. She goes to her Mother’s on Mother’s Day.

I want to give up on her. I want to decide once and for all that I am just her fancy maid. I want to not really talk to her and not really listen to her and not really care.

But I can’t. Because I love her.

There is a thin space, delicate and nearly invisible, that I try to find, where I don’t expect anything, but I’m open anyway. A space where I can do the work without needing much in return. A space where I can appreciate the moments, like when she wants to talk while we ride in the car or when she wants to see a movie, just the two of us.

I don’t need the feeling of the graduation dinner anymore. Maybe we will get close and maybe we won’t. 

My step-daughter is smart and funny and kind. She is a talented artist and she is good to her friends. She is insightful beyond her years and she is beautiful. 

She is my STEP-daughter.

I am her STEP-Mom.

Open, but not expecting.