Hello. My name is Ashley, I am 35 years old and I am a stepmother.
A group of nameless voices inside my head reply in unison, “Hello, Ashley.”
No, I don’t compare my life as a bonus parent to that of an alcoholic, though sometimes it does make me want to reach for the nearest bottle of red. (Can I get an Amen?) Truth is, I absolutely adore my step-children, and I cringe at prefacing them with that awful word: step.
Early in our relationship, I asked the girls if they’d be okay if, when anyone asked, I just referred to them as my daughters (no "step" predecessor). I explained that I know they have a "real mom," and how I wasn’t trying to take her place, but I also think of and love them as if they were my own. It didnt take much convincing, as they both immediately and excitedly said, “Yes!”
Unfortunately, I know that isn’t the case for most in my shoes.
As a step-parent you wear the hat of many different roles while teetering on imaginary boundaries that you aren’t even aware of until you cross them. It’s a balancing act, one that there is no crash course on, and one that far too often leaves you wondering, ‘am I going to get in trouble for this?’
Bio-parents have years of experience to prepare for the moments when their kid acts up or asks tough questions. Steps, on the other hand, just kind of get thrown into it without a manual.
There is no greater example of this, in my life, than the day Krista walked to my bedroom after school and quietly mumbled, “Ashley?”
By the tone of her voice, I instantly knew something was wrong.
“Hey. Are you okay?”
Krista cowered in the doorway, and shakily responded, “Do you have a, um..." she hesitated, and her voice turned to a whisper, ..."pad?”
My eyes grew wide, and my voice became as shaky as hers, “No, I don’t, but we can go get some. Is this your first time?”
Crap. Not only did I not have anything in stock for this moment, but I also didn’t have twelve years to prepare for this, either.
I told her to wad up some toilet paper for now, and we would go to the store. Krista went into the bathroom to do as I instructed, and, heart pounding, I scampered around the house in circles, frantically searching for my purse, keys and wallet.
Of course the first time she gets her period it’s with me. Don’t screw this up, don’t screw this up, don’t screw this up.
We hopped in my Jeep and sped off to the nearest CVS. The pressure was thick, but I attempted to keep it together as we casually strolled through the aisles searching for lady supplies. My thoughts and anxiety raced, Why do they make this a damn scavenger hunt?
There it stood: the very intimidating Great Wall of Maxi Pads.
Oh, dear God! It had been over 20 years since I had gotten my period for the first time, and I certainly couldn’t remember the last time I used a pad.
Don’t screw this up, don’t screw this up, don’t screw this up.
I had zero clue which ones I was supposed to get, so I did what any other rational woman in that moment would do: I grabbed one of each.
Yup, I literally tossed a box of every shape, size and color into my cart. I also threw in a few cartons of scented and unscented wipes, a box of tissues (you know, for emotions), and a pound of chocolates (for cravings). I truly had no idea what I was doing.
I pushed my cart of towering maxis to the register; The cashier eyed me quizically, and Krista blushed with embarrassment. The amount on the screen for the lifetime supply of feminine hygeine products had me shell shocked. I gulped while I swiped my credit card for the over-a-hundred dollars purchase.
When we got back into the car, I put the key in the ignition, turned to the backseat to hand Krista her bags of goodies and said very matter-of-factly, “I’m not going to have a sex talk with you right now, but just so you know, now you can get pregnant… so don’t.”
After the words escaped my lips, I immediately regretted it. I probably shouldn’t have said that.
While we were driving I asked Krista if she had any other questions for me. She only had a few, but luckily I did have the answers to them. I tried to give her the information she sought with as much honesty as possible, even if it made us both feel slightly awkward. I also told her that this was a day to be proud of. We were going to go home, pick up Kylie, her sister, and go out to dinner. This was the day she began her transition into womanhood, and we were going to celebrate! She could pick anywhere she wanted to eat, within reason, and we would go.
We did just that.
On the drive back home from the Chinese Buffet, Krista asked if I could tell Kylie what had transpired that day. Kylie is three years younger than Krista, and I wasn’t exactly sure how to explain menstruation to a nine year old. However, as gross and weird as the process is, all day I had been explaining the normalacy of it, trying make Krista feel more comfortable. I figured the worst I could do, in that moment, would be to say that talking about it was inappropriate. Besides, they do share a bedroom, Kylie would eventually find out something was up sooner or later.
I gathered my thoughts and began, “Kyz, Keeks wanted me to tell you that something happened to her today. You see, when girls get a little older they go through something that sometimes makes them…”
I paused. I didn’t know how to put this in terms Kylie would understand without opening Pandoras Box of questions.
After a moment of hesitation, I blurted out, “…that sometimes make them pee blood.”
I cringed. Did I really just say that? Yes, yes I did. Yet, aside from Kylie’s, “Does it hurt?” and “Will it happen to me to?” questions, my ridiculous explanation seemed to satisfy both girls.
We got home around 8:45pm that night. As we walked through the door, the girls hugged daddy hello, and began their nightly routine. As they were getting ready for bed, I told Eric everything. I explained how I was certain I had screwed this up somehow, and that I desperately needed a glass of wine to soothe my nerves. He didn’t understand why I was so frazzled, assured me that I did a great job, and poured me a glass anyway.
Wine in hand, we walked to the girls' room. Before climbing into her top bunk, Krista leaned into me, gave me a big squeeze and whispered in my ear, "Thank you for today."
I squeezed her tighter.
We tucked the girls in, recited our prayers, said goodnight, turned off the light, and closed their bedroom door.
In bed, I sipped my wine, the velvety smooth Pinot magically washing away my self doubt. It was a good day, a stressful one, but a good one, nonetheless. I conquered a situation that I had no preparedness for. Crisis averted. I handled it. The replay of Krista’s thank you and bearhug sealed the deal, Maybe, I'm rockin' this stepmom thing, after all. I felt proud.
A few days later, when the girls were with Biomom, Eric tells me about a text he received that afternoon. The girls' mother heard about the prior week's situation, and was quite upset with me. I knew it! I knew I'd screw it up somehow. I asked for more details.
Was she upset that I told Krista now she could get pregnant? No.
...that I answered all of Krista’s questions honestly? No.
...that I described the process to Kylie completely inaccurately? No.
Then, why was she so perturbed?
Because she wanted to be the one to have that experience with Krista, and she wanted to be the one to tell Kylie... A good, old fashioned 'it should have been me.'
Like I said, “imaginary boundaries.”
...to all the other wicked (awesome) stepmothers out there, cheers.
*raises glass, sips wine*
~names have been changed to protect the innocent~