They wore red. Each of them. Their shirt or in their tie. It was your favorite color and one of the many ways they honored your memory that day. I remember them walking in to the church and down the aisle to the the front, all slow and somber and dressed up. They cleaned up real nice the day that the church was gathered and packed to remember you .
They are more comfortable in sweats and gym clothes really. And their dad knew that, too–so they went to the gym in the other part of the church building with their friends while the grownups visited after the memorial service. He let them be boys. After dipping deep into the grief, he created a space for them to come up for air. The gym is a space of comfort and familiarity. In a world that just turned upside down for them, he gave them the gift of being with their friends in the place they feel most familiar.
His first concern was for them. He was lost himself, for sure, because of all that you were to him as his wife. But the extra kicker was that the parent most able to help them through, was the one they had just lost. He was floundering some, not knowing how best to be there for them after the death of their mom. And that was why he called me.
Friends call their plumber friend when their pipes spring a leak on the weekend. Folks that are moving call their friends with pickup trucks to help. And friends call their therapist friends when they are in over their head in relationships. And just as plumber friends and truck friends help out, so do therapist friends. Not to be a therapist. Not at all. But to be a friend. I knew from personal experience what it was to walk Junior Tribe Members through the loss of a parent in the household, and to grieve a way of life that was, and now is no more.
I let him know we could meet and visit and brainstorm as parents who care about their kids. That was how he and I got to talking, Carolyn–out of concern for your children.
Your children have been very important considerations in our relationship all along, Carolyn. They got shafted big time when you died…kids need moms. They weren’t finished being mothered by you. You were such a good one, too—and so your loss was doubly felt. Their tender hearts needed to be considered–protected and cared for. I’m sure we’ve made mistakes, Carolyn–but our mistakes haven’t been for lack of effort.
And now, they didn’t get to pick this woman that their dad would marry—thought we did consider them and their thoughts in the timing of it. We asked each of them for their blessing. We asked them about their concerns and their fears. There’s so much in this situation that could have them feeling powerless…we have done what we could to include them, and make sure that this is working for them.
Years ago, I read an article where a woman wrote out a list of all the qualities her future husband should have. She did that as a helpful objective measure for when the time came, to remind her of who she was looking for. I thought that was a good idea and did the same. On my list was this: I wanted my future husband to: “struggle with how our relationship will affect his kids…and have that impact our relationship”.
I wanted that future husband of mine to have his kids matter–I wanted him to sometimes tell me it didn’t work to see me because his kids needed him that day for a special event, or simply because they needed time with him. That’s not so noble as it sounds, Car—there is actually an element of practicality there—if he put his kids as important priorities in a dating relationship, then I knew he would make space for me to do the same with mine. And that would also have me know that he could have his priorities have him make inconvenient decisions (when you’re new in a relationship, it’s so tempting to want to spend every minute together, eh?)—which would mean that he would be able to be able to hold me as a priority in his life over the long haul through thick and thin.
He does that, Carolyn. There’s times when I want to see him, but we both are hanging out with our kids doing their thing. That’s one of the many things I love about him. He’s a good dad.
So…soon your children and I will be part of the same family…two families working towards the process of becoming one. I get that it’s gonna take time, and it’s probably often gonna feel like two families who are clumsily trying to do a multi-person waltz for the first time. Toes are gonna get stepped on, I know. It’s a vulnerable position to be in. I will be living with them in the same house as we all figure it out. I want it to go well…but I don’t wanna try too hard at it either–because kids can smell it a mile away when you force it. Forcing it wouldn’t be respectful to them. I just wanna be real with them…and even more, create a space where they can be the real with me.
So…here’s the deal, Carolyn: You are their mom. Always will be. Not gonna try to take your place. That would be disrespectful to you and them…and well, a total pipe dream to try to replace you. You were and are their mama. I do hope, in time, to be allowed to mother them. To someday be a woman who provides a mothering spirit in their lives—but for now, I’m their dad’s fiancée and we are friendly friends.
Some have expressed concern it will be hard for them to call me “mom”. That’s not an issue. They aren’t planning on it…that’s simple. I’m “Carolyn” to them. That’s the way I want it. Because that’s the way they want it.
They may not consider me as their mom, but I do consider them my sons. It’s a little odd getting a sudden pack of new Junior Tribe Members. They are growing on me, fast though, these boys of yours. Remarkable sons you birthed, these ones. Kinda funny how quickly my heart has been captivated. Last weekend, one of them limped off the court after a particularly rough play, and it bugged me to see that one of the opposing team had hurt “my boy”. I didn’t even notice that feeling as unusual right away–it felt so natural at the time.
I think that’s how step mothering works best–to come to love them like your own, and yet allow them to see you in whatever way they find works for them.
I’ve started a book, which I keep at their house–things to remember about each one so that I remember the quirks and uniqueness of them. One doesn’t like mushrooms or olives. Another one doesn’t like tomato chunks in the tomato sauce. One likes Lord of the Rings–and now I am watching the movies, and will yet read the books. The older ones are fiercely protective of the younger one. I write in the book things I want to remember about them.
We are having fun. We went tobogganing this winter…and laughed as we went down the hill in various combinations on the sleds. We’ve gone out for dinner, played games, and watched March madness on TV. And I get to watch them play in the gym–watching from the bleachers is one of my favourite things ever. They’re fun boys, Carolyn–and I know how you didn’t want to miss their growing up. We laugh and joke. Sometimes I ache, thinking of how I get to enjoy these moments in ways you longed to, and would sooo loved to have been a part of. These moments then become doubly precious to me.
I think one of the most important roles I have in relating to them is to make sure that they know I honour and respect you, and I want to be the champion of your memory in the household. You raised them to be honest, to care for others, to have fun, to look for ways to help others, to be brave and try new things, and to work hard at things they are tackling in life. I am looking to support that legacy you left them.
We will have some family pictures up on the walls of you with them, and pictures of you together with this one or that one around the house. I want to make sure you come up in conversation as we tell stories around the supper table–of how your feet were always hot even in the middle of winter on the cold floor, and how you liked the colour red, and of the birthday cakes you made for them.
The other day it was the youngest’s turn to help with supper and so when I had some things for him to do, I called him downstairs to the kitchen. I asked him to wash and quarter some strawberries for the salad. He pulled out a dishtowel and put it on the counter. I wasn’t sure why he pulled out a dishtowel to cut up strawberries but I let him do his thing. After he washed the berries, he put them on the dishtowel and then cut them up. As he did so, he let me know that, “This is how my mom does it.” Almost right after, he corrected himself to say, “This is how my mom did it.” It’s heartbreaking to hear a young boy have to change the verb tense when he’s talking about his mother. Afterwards, he apologized for the red stains on the dishtowel that the strawberries had made. I didn’t care about the stains. Please know that I’m fine if the dishtowels in our home get stained if that’s gonna be a way he remembers you. Every. Single. One. can get dirty. I want that.
So…like I said, these boys are more at home in a gym with a T shirt and shorts than fancied up in dress duds. We want our wedding to be comfortable for JTM’s…and so instead of a dance, we are having basketball and volleyball in the gym. They are each inviting some friends to enjoy the wedding and the gym with them. Whomever wants to can play on the court, and the rest of us will sit and visit and watch the fun. I first knew your sons from the sidelines many years ago…and it will be a blast for all of us to be in the gym on the wedding day.
I have the cutest sneakers to put on with my wedding dress for the gym part of the evening. Hot pink with white laces.
Pink sneakers. Very pink–very cute. Not red.
Red was your colour…and I will make sure your sons will always remember that.
The third in a series of letters to Carolyn. The rest:
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