Thursday, December 19, 2013

The mom and the evil stepmother living happily ever after? It really must be Christmas.

My 16-year-old stepson is on Twitter, but I don’t follow him; he had gotten off Facebook because he was tired of his parents and stepparents reading and commenting on his status updates, so I decided not to stalk his tweets. A few people I know follow him, though, and one of them alerted me last night to something he had posted. With a little trepidation, I took a look, and he had written:

I'm so glad my parents still get along even though they are divorced.

I found that amazing in a couple of ways: First, I love that he, a 16-year-old male, is willing to put his feelings out there for all to see. And second, I love that he recognizes and is obviously comforted by something that’s been a long time coming.

Like most marriages that end, his parents’ didn’t end happily; there was a great deal of friction at first, and when significant others were added to the mix, the friction quadrupled. Kevin’s ex, Leslie, was someone I had known when the two of them were married; our daughters were friends, and we’d do the pick-up-and-drop-off thing; I wasn’t close to her, but I had liked her just fine.

So when I started dating Kevin, I had no reason not to like Leslie, so I still liked her fine. But then it became clear that because feelings were still pretty raw, I needed to choose one camp or the other, so I “sided” with my now-husband and decided I’d better not like Leslie anymore (proof, mind you, that adulthood is a lot like seventh grade, except with taller people).

So we became … something strange. Not enemies, but certainly not friends. And then she remarried, and then Kevin and I married, and suddenly we were dealing with hordes of hormonal pre-teens and teenagers, and no one liked anyone a whole lot. Kevin’s kids were loyal to their mom, of course, and they knew she and I didn’t get along well, so our animosity fueled their dislike of me. And rather than rise above the whole mess, I allowed their dislike of me to hurt me, and I guess that in turn, I blamed their mom.

And for years, we collectively churned, and we festered, and we cried, and I wondered why I had embarked down this path; no one was happy. Looking back, I don’t know how Kevin and I managed to keep our marriage intact.

But then, one day, we looked around and realized most of the kids were grown. And as Kevin’s kids became interested in real-life pursuits, they seemed to hate me less, or at least they showed it less. There were no tear-filled mea culpas, but there seemed to be a détente of sorts. And then one day, I got a text message from Leslie. It was about one of my stepkids -– one who was upset over what she perceived as my dislike of her. Leslie wanted me to be aware of the way her daughter felt. The message, and its contents, chilled me.

I had been so upset over the dislike I felt from the kids that I hadn’t given a thought to the fact that the kids thought I disliked them. And Cinderella’s evil stepmother flashed before my eyes, and the fact that I was being called out –- quite rightly –- for some pretty poor behavior brought me to my knees. I had never, ever set out to be that person.

But I was that person -– at least in the eyes of a few kids I truly did care about. And as I set about making things right, I realized what an extraordinary thing Leslie had done in reaching out. And over days and weeks as our communication increased, I realized that this was a person I really, truly still liked.

From that point, things turned around. Although my stepdaughters were on their own, they saw the four of us -– their mom and stepdad, and their dad and me -– interacting at events. At home, I’d make sure to bring up, with my younger stepson, something funny his mom had said, or I’d offhandedly remark that she had texted me about something. When Logan’s baseball team went to the state tournament, we sat together, and when the team won, we rejoiced together. Logan was able to look up from the field and see his entire family cheering him on from the same row of seats. I thought at the time: I hope this means something.

And it became clear last night that it did, and it does. As Leslie’s and my relationship thawed, that freed Kevin and Leslie to become friends as well. Time is a funny thing; few events are more wounding than divorce, but if we’re lucky, those of us who divorced relatively young are able to look back with more mature eyes at what went wrong, and to forgive our former spouses and ourselves. As I look at my own ex-husband now, so many years down the road, I see the qualities that attracted me to him in the first place: his kindness and humor and the knowledge that he’d be a good parent. I think Kevin and Leslie are at that stage as well.

The four of us don’t hold hands and sing Kumbayah; we’re different people with different interests. But we’re a part of one another’s lives, and the kids witness our interactions on almost a daily basis. And Logan’s tweet last night drove home the point that these mended relationships have meant something. I wish it could have happened when the girls were still home, but here’s something I hold on to: There’s another generation in the picture now, as one of the girls has a baby of her own. And thankfully, that little girl will never know our relationships any way other than the way they are now.

Leslie texted me the other night. “Got your Christmas card; it’s great!” She said. I responded: “Thanks! I think you took the picture of Carly that I used on it; guess I should have told you I stole it from your Facebook.”

And I laughed, Kevin asked me what I was laughing at.

“Oh, just Leslie,” I said. And he shook his head.

“You guys are weird,” he said.

But he was smiling.

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