They say that we are primed to notice what’s wrong, to anticipate danger, and to remember bad things and disasters. Life as a new stepmom is full of hard moments. I could fill pages with stories of rejection and misunderstanding and on some days it seems that my jealousy and insecurity in relation to my role in this new family knows no end. In light of all that, it has become especially important to stop and notice, and even look for, what is good, what is funny, what is kind and thoughtful, and something like love. This here is me carving out a space for all of that. I like to think of what I’m doing as cultivating the ground for possibility.
Last Sunday morning —at my husband’s suggestion— I offered to take M to the store to buy his Christmas present. (Step family experts say that shoulder to shoulder activities between stepmom and child are good ways to cultivate relationship that otherwise, by default, would always favor the bio-parent, often to the exclusion of the step-parent.) I felt very shy about asking, not wanting a rejection, but in the spirit of the first rule of improv — to always say YES, even if it’s a YES AND… — I went with it and asked. She said OK and I went ahead with that as a yes.
On the drive to the store I said a few things but then did my best to let silences be there and not fill them in too quickly with questions or nervous chatter. At one point M filled in a silence all on her own and it took us down a lovely path wherein she told me about a short story they had read in school (she’s in 7th grade)— it was all about an earth family that moves to Mars. From what she said, I figured that the story is all about identity and labels and names, a subject of much interest to me, especially in relation to how my definitions and assumptions about something can limit me from seeing things as they actually are, or could be. Anyway, I let her keep telling me the story, every now and then making little interested sounds but all the while trying not to be too eager — know what I mean? Then she pointed out a shift in the narrating voice from the beginning to the end of the story and something about”third person omniscient”… Even though this had likely been a whole lesson in her language arts class she talked about third person omniscient so la-de-da and nonchalantly, I did my best to remain cool but could not help telling her how much I loved noticing the perspective in which a story is told, especially when there are shifts in perspective!, because it can let you in on so many subtle things without the writer ever having to spell them out for you. I asked her the name and author of the story, which she didn’t remember, and which she reminded me she never remembers, but after a couple beats she went on to tell me that she had the story in her backpack at our place.
Later, at home, at some point she remembered(!) and brought it to me. And then we sat on the love seat together, she doing her science homework and I reading the short story, which happens, it turns out, to be by none other than Ray Bradbury. (I didn’t know this until the very end and kept thinking, as I read, Wow! This is one well-written story!)
So, that happened. And whoa but now I’m on a roll to remember what else not to forget! Here’s another that!
The night before, after picking M up from girl scouts, my husband, M and I went to buy a Christmas tree. We wanted the smallest one possible seeing as we will only be enjoying it for a few days and will then be away from Christmas through New Years, and so we picked, indeed, the smallest one, which also happened to be a little wonky in shape. But it was the one M liked and we happily went with it. Then Jeffrey bungey chorded it to the bike rack on the back of the car and we laughed and laughed about how funny it looked. And then we came home and WE(!)-in-caps-and-exclamation made cookies and decorated the wonky tree. We didn’t have a star for the top so M made a snowflake star.
So that’s the story of our wonky tree.
Last night M and her big sister R (home from college) came over and we celebrated Christmas. Here is that tree. Not bad, huh?
But quite possibly my favorite tree this year happened on a lark when M misunderstood her dad’s suggestion and staked a bunch of old books on top of each other. Like this. And I added a string of wee battery powered LED lights. It’s possibly my favorite tree ever and I don’t think I’ll take it down when Christmas leaves. Don’t you love it?