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 have 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 real mom.” Even when we fought about school and grades. Even when you were a teenager and didn’t come home at night, 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, 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 birthing 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 into the car for the five-hour drive.
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 you, his beautiful daughter, and I never thought twice about bringing you home. I wanted to immediately envelop 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 also 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, you and I, 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. Each has an inscription I wrote and dated, starting with the first Christmas I knew you and 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. You 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, goodnight.” 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’s and skating rinks, made that SpongeBob 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 of this I did in the hopes of finding the thing that really connected us and proving to you that I really did have your back.
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 fits 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 actually being good. You excelled at every sport you attempted. You ran across the soccer field with such speed that I was in awe, and you made the volleyball team despite never having played the sport before.
And through it all, even our happiest days, you longed for your mom. I asked myself over and over, 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 ached 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. 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 in the doorway of 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 stepparent, 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, stepparent or not.
You’ll understand more when your daughter is here how our children bring us a lot of joy and some heartache as well. (In fact, I think you’re already beginning to understand this.) 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 couple of weeks. I will hold her and squeeze her and tell her, “Sleep tight. See you in the morning. I love you. Goodnight.” Maybe you’ll start saying it to her too.
And you can call me when she’s a teenager.
— Katherine, aka Grandma