I had my babies in my 20’s. I had a really big plan that I’d be done parenting and simply guiding adult children by the time I was 46. I was going to take a sabbatical to live in Paris and teach art for a year the year after Liam graduated high school. I had no idea how I was going to make it happen, but I knew that’s what I wanted to do.
I loved being their mama and I was also so tired all the time I thought I’d never sleep again. My marriage to their lovely father suffered because I put all my energy into raising kids and into working and not much at all into developing my relationship to him. I think having babies is one of the most deeply stressful and straining things on a marriage, and it takes a lot of care to keep that bond strong. I did not put that kind of care into it, and neither did he. No matter how much you love someone and want it to work, if you don’t nurture your bond, you are doomed. I remember as a child how irritated I was that my parents put their relationship first over being the parents to five daughters. But they were always super bonded to each other and when my dad passed they had been together for almost 40 years. They clearly had some deep wisdom about what it took. They fought big battles and kissed each other in a PG-13 manner in the kitchen. It was always obvious that they were madly in love with each other and their passion for each other was my love model.
When my relationship with my children’s father ended I thought well, I’m just going to be me alone, and live in a one bedroom apartment and have my dog and have the kids over when they can come.
Then I agreed to go out with Tom.
On our first date he talked about his three children, but mostly about his daughters still under 18. His son Brendon was briefly living with him and the girls in their 2 bedroom duplex at the time and he had a very full house. He almost canceled our date due to parenting stress, and I’m obviously glad he didn’t. I don’t know if we would have met another time…I was a woman ready to be unattached, unplanned. I wanted to just…well, I didn’t want a relationship at all. I wanted some company and a friend. I felt like I’d failed at everything and I didn’t want to drag myself and another person into the hell my children’s father and I had just had to extricate ourselves from.
I fell in love with him so quickly and immediately. He is the biggest shock of my life.
Within a few weeks we’d told each other how in love we were and within a few more we were already looking at houses. It was irrational and crazy if you look at calendars and timelines. But we knew.
Not only did I have a love that was astounding, but that love came with other humans to love. God had some ideas for me. In that infinite love and wisdom was a knowing that I needed to have more children to love and help guide in my life.
Ella Grace is 15 today. I have known her since she was just a tiny little 6th grader, just turned 12, itty bitty. She was easily transportable, I could pick her up myself. She was a little waif of a thing, but with a fierce power that would shock people. She would get her dad to buy her gum or mints at Dari Mart in the morning and had a supply of goods taped to the inside of her sweater to sell to other Catholic school kids at recess. Her heart is huge and sees the tragedy and the comedy in things acutely. But she keeps her heart to herself, not asking for much. It took me and her dad about two years to get her to stop apologizing for herself all the time. She watches disgusting shows with her father like pimple popping (I can barely think about it without wanting to wretch) and hunts with her Uncle Mark. She can shoot a rifle, shotgun, bow and arrow. She can draw anything she sees with a reality that is stunning. She torments me by scraping her long nails on my skin and when she sees I’m sad or overworked or busy she asks me if I need a hug. When her dad and I are not getting along, she gets anxious and I have to reassure her. She is currently in what I call “her full teenage powers,” because being a teenager is hard and it takes all of one’s energy to simply stay afloat. It’s okay Ella. We have all been there before and we are here for you. Even though you are currently making us batty.
So I get to be a stepmother to this beautiful human and to her big sister Olivia. Sometimes I hate this job, because it is much harder than parenting your biological children. That doesn’t sound right, and I don’t know how to word this. I don’t want to discount adopted parents or any kind of parent in this statement. Olivia and Ella and Brendon are my children, but not the ones I came into the relationship with.
I am NOT their mother. I am simply another parent in their life, and yes, I would throw myself in front of a train to save them. I am as fiercely protective of them as I am of Piper and Liam. I want only the best things for them, but I know they will be met with more hardships and challenges. I’ve already seen them both live through many.
Today I want to celebrate the amazing Ella Grace. I want to say thank you to Tom and to God for letting me have this relationship. I feel blessed by this gift. And I feel unsure and unskilled and I fail all the time. Sometimes I hurt her by being frustrated and sometimes I am late to pick her up. She tells me “it’s all good,” a line she’s picked up from her dad.
Mostly Ella, I just love you so much. I am so proud of you. I hope I am a light in your life instead of a shadow. I celebrate you and send you joy.
Happy 15th Birthday, Ella Grace!