Has there ever been a life-changing event that you were terrified of? I'm sure most of have experienced this at one time or another. This story is about the scariest times of my life, which turned out to be one of the most rewarding. I have three step-children, all grown now. I have grandchildren from them, and it was as though the 'blood issue' never existed. It didn't start out that way. In the beginning…….
As I sat in the crowded San Diego airport, sweat was pouring down my face. My hands were shaking and my nerves were shot. My husband was sitting beside me anxiously awaiting the arrival of his three teenage children. The airport was a loud din of languages relaying gates when would be boarding, arriving, etc. People were walking to and fro, carrying their precious cargo behind them, or some doing it the old fashioned way and struggling with their bags. Listening to the people behind me rattle on in Spanish wasn't helping my nerves any. Everything was so loud. And there it was.
"Flight No. 407 from San Francisco is now arriving." We waited a few minutes, and suddenly there they were. The reunion from father and children was a beautiful one. There were hugs all around..a joyful occasion. They were a very nice but varied group of children. There were two girls and one boy. The boy was about 16th, black hair, wearing a 'Go Giants' tee shirt with checkered colored slip-ons. I thought they looked strange but that was the style. The girls were dressed in jeans and a tee shirt, one was wearing a Michael Jackson tee shirt; the other one sported Madonna. I don't know why, but I was a little shocked at the Asian look. I knew they were Vietnamese, but I guess I spaced that out.
After the joyful reunion was over, my husband smiled at me and introduced them one by one. He was a tall good-looking man with dark brown hair and blue eyes that could penetrate your soul. We had only been married a year when the children's mother passed away.
The children were only one year apart in age. I didn't know if this would make things easier or harder. They were 13, 14, and 15. Vince introduced me to the youngest one, Jennifer. She was polite but distrust was in her eyes. A gangling thirteen year old, she hadn't quite grown into her body yet. She was short, very thin, and in bad need of braces. Her teeth were almost horizontal. She wasn't the most attractive person but would one day be a beauty. The next one LeAnne, was entirely different. She was a very pretty fourteen year old with an outgoing personality. She hugged me when she saw me and said how happy she was to meet me. The boy, Vincent Jr., looked like his father except for the Asian eyes. He was very aloof. He was polite but didn't talk much.
Before we headed back to Yuma, we were going to make a little vacation and visit the zoo. It was a pleasant time and the warm California sun was fantastic. We had a very pleasant time looking at all the animals and even got sprayed by an elephant. So far, so good. After we visited the zoo, everyone was hungry so we stopped at a Pizza Hut before heading home. The children didn't talk to me much, they spent the time talking to their Dad which was normal. They hadn't seen each other in a while. I think LeAnne knew how uncomfortable I must feel and started talking to me. It was mostly small talk. She told me the bands she liked or disliked and was a very personable young lady. Vincent Jr. said nothing to anyone. And Jennifer, well, she hadn't changed her mind about me.
Time to hit the road. Okay, here was the first squabble. We had a white Pontiac and the children were to sit in the back. Here it comes. "I'm not going to sit in the middle, you sit there. I did last time." After much ado it was decided Jennifer would in the middle since she was the smallest. Needless to say, she was not happy about it.
Before we took off, Jennifer started complaining about not feeling well, the pizza didn't agree. Neither Vince or I paid much attention to her, just thought she was tired. Vince had entered the freeway and she was still complaining, "Dad, I'm really, really sick, can't we pull over?" He looked a little upset and her told her, "No honey, we're in the middle of the freeway, we'll pull in at the rest stop." As we did, Jennifer said she was feeling a little better, so we headed back to the car. To show her what a nice person I was, I asked if she wanted to sit between her Dad and me. Reluctantly she said, "well, ok" As we began traveling again, she didn't say anything, but before I knew it, her pizza was in my lap. What a great start! I had a feeling the kid didn't like me anyway, and she throws up on me! There were some towels in the glove compartment and I cleaned up as best I could. She apologized profusely and told me she never meant for that happen, between her stomachache, her nerves and the heat, she just couldn't take it. I assured her it was okay, and accidents happen, it wasn't her fault.
Finally, we arrived in Yuma, I just wanted to hop in the shower. But before we went in the house, we took out all the suitcases and the children got to see their new surroundings. They were all so tired, they just sat on the couch. They didn't say anything, just crashed. I left them alone on the couch and headed to the shower. When I came back, the group ahd come back to life. They were examining the furniture, looking at the solid state TV, and decided it was okay to live here. It's when I showed them their bedrooms when things got a little hairy. I had made bunk beds for the girls in the larger bedroom. LeAnne didn't say much, but Jennifer complained, "Bunk beds? I haven't slept in those since I was a kid!" Okay, my first faux pas as Step Mom. Lord knows there would be many more. Vince, Jr. looked at his room and complained it was too small. I explained to him there were two of them and one of him. He sat down on the bed and folded his arms. To placate him, I explained this was the coolest room in the house. Once more, he said nothing.
Although Vince, Jr. didn't say much, he was a bit sarcastic at times. He was very critical of my cooking. Guaranteed, I wasn't the best, but I was losing all self-confidence. His remarks were meant to be funny, and looking back, they were hilarious. At the time I wanted to slug him.
I was making chicken one night. He looked at it and said, "Oh, we're having dead dismembered bird tonight." At least he was talking. Another time, I tried my hand at making fresh biscuits. That was a disaster. My mother had taught me to make them, and hers were always perfect. Mine…not so much. Mom's big fluffy biscuits had turned into hockey pucks for the kids to throw at one another. Vince Jr. took one, banged it on the table, it was hard as a rock. It was also slightly burnt. He threw it at his sister and she returned one. Pretty soon, the whole kitchen was a baseball field. I yelled at them to stop, and took them off the table. To prove I had a sense of humor, I said, "Ok, ok, so I'm no Chef Boy Rd" In unison they said, "Who?"
My next disaster- tacos. I was frying them in a pan when suddenly the fire alarm went off. I hadn't put enough oil in the pan. As it was they turned out just fine, but oh the razzing I got!
After months of, 'You're not my mother, I don't have to listen to you' (This was from Jennifer), Vincent's constant aloofness, and Jennifer's suspicion, what was I going to do. I remember one time we were outside the building. The desert has geckos all over, but I was scared to death of the things. Jennifer knew this, and deliberately threw one on my coat.
"Oh, I'm so sorry, Mary, it just slipped." Uh huh, right.
After a while we got to know each other pretty well and even had fun together. But there were those times, when I was sure I was doing a terrible job. Jennifer still distrusted me, Vince, Jr. wouldn't speak to me; the only friendly one was LeAnne.
The thing that surprised me most was when one day Vince Jr. came home from school, obviously upset. I tried to ask what was wrong but he shrugged me off. Later that evening though, he came to me and said, "Can we talk?" I had never heard those words from his mouth before. We went in the den and he began pouring his heart out to me. All the unspoken words suddenly broke like a dam, and silence was history, at least for now. We talked for about an hour, (he did). I couldn't believe my ears. I thought this was the beginning of a new relationship. But the next day, he barely spoke to me. Couldn't I do
anything right? What did I say, or not say?
We usually went to the book store every Friday night. I was starting to get along with everyone, even Jennifer was coming around. But I still felt like a failure. I still didn't feel she trusted me. And who could blame her? She missed her mother so much. How could I possibly take her place or blame her for hating me.
I didn't know it, but my fears were unfounded. The children had told their father what a wonderful person I was. When he told me that, I was sure they were just trying to make him happy. I hadn't quite caught on that their shenanigans were just teenagers being teenagers. And losing their mother was the worst tragedy imaginable. The fact that they talked to me at all was amazing.
But I was no psychiatrist, I needed help. I wanted their trust. I browsed the bookstore, and finally found what I was looking for. It was on the bottom shelf, and was entitled, 'How to be a Good Stepmother'. Suddenly I felt a hand on mine. I looked up, it was Jennifer. Through gentle eyes, she removed the book from my hand and put the book back on the shelf. That's when I knew I must be doing okay, when she gently said to me, "You don't need that". I guess I passed the Step-Mom test.