In October, Blue Eyes turned ten. Double digits. A decade. It felt big. While every birthday is a milestone on its own, turning ten seemed like it needed to be celebrated a little differently. Like all things blended… things fell apart a little before we put them back together.
Every year, I write the girls a love letter on their birthdays. For months, I’ve started and faltered with this one. I feel like I can’t say the things I want to say. I was glossing over the hard parts, the complicated bits, and the things that hurt because, well, everything I read about being a step parent says to stay in a certain lane. Yet, everything inside of me is saying that that isn’t what this family is doing. So, even though I am understanding this to be taboo, I think I ought to to try this letter with it all.
The irony of struggling with saying things that felt true, but might not be polite is not lost on me. After all these months, that’s what I wanted to tell my step-daughter, that polite, timid, and pleasant have a place in life, but that place will never be one that leads to anywhere interesting. I would rather an authentic, interesting, real life with all the headaches than to play some role. So, with that said, here is the overly belated birthday letter to my unofficial stepdaughter.
That was the quickest ten years I ever had the pleasure to witness. I swear yesterday you needed help putting on your shirts or reaching the frozen yogurts in the freezer.
I never got to love you as an infant. Your chubby thighs and bright toothless smile I have only seen in pictures. Your smell, your first words, the way you gummed your mashed up carrots– all of that will never be woven into memories of you. So maybe it is because I just came along on the cusp on you turning three that this seems like I blinked and poof: You are in the weird space moving from young kid into teen.
You are funny, insightful, thoughtful and kind. You’ve always been those things, but as you’ve grown bigger in life so have your many wonderful attributes. You make Dad and I so proud of you.
The past few years we’ve had some rocky patches. Which, is amazingly wonderful really. You should know by now that even in the tough, hard to navigate spots– there is always something good being planted. In the dark, deep soil of hardship really strong roots of something better are growing. Now, to be honest, I’m not sure exactly what is blooming for us, but I know the seeds are there. I know we planted something special.
Dad and I worry about you probably as much as we are proud of you. As your part-time parents, you float around a little in the unknown. We never expect to know what your up to every minute of everyday. Yet, there are things that are just lost to us and pieces that don’t quite mesh together. As someone who loves you it causes a little worry. My intuition always says there are things you want to tell us about, but something makes you hold your thoughts close to you. Sometimes when I look at you its like i can see the words, the story, the poem, the song, the thing you don’t know how to say floating close to the surface, but you never let it loose.
So if I haven’t told you enough: You are made for the hard parts of your life, H. You have the things inside you to get through the parts of your life that make you scared, sad, and unsure. Half of life is learning to trust these parts of you and the other half is learning how to hear them over the din of other people. It is kind of a act of faith in your own self.
When you were little, and suppose to be dairy free, Dad would still get you french toast and scrambled eggs or mac & cheese. You, at three or four, would tell your Mom you ate something else at dinner. This went on for such a long time and Dad hardly heard a peep from Mom about it until at some point– you both got found out. Dad never wanted to put you in a tougher position and so at drop off when Mom asked what you ate and you bold-faced lied about it, well, he never corrected you. That’s kind of where he and I differ sometimes in parenting— I always encouraged you to own it. That some consequences are worthwhile. If you were really dairy sensitive (which has always been the debate) a tummy ache, the snots, and a poop situation might have been worth eating Mac & Cheese once a week. There are worst things than people being disappointed, angry, or concerned about your decisions in life. Consequences and your relationship to them are a key part of life. Hiding from it– which is what a lie really is at its beginning– never ends as well as sticking to your truth would. Plus, the hurt a lie leaves behind is usually deeper and harder to mend than any damage that happens by just sticking to your decisions. I feel like you still kind of operate this way sometimes. You tell your parents what they want to hear more often than just saying the things that might make the world feel a little wishy-washy, pinch your heart, or have an outcome they might not care for.
Here is the thing I want you to know at age ten: No matter what you tell us and if that thing might have us feel hurt, worried, sad, upset, or angry, well, Darling girl, we’ve been those things a thousand times before for a thousand reasons. You won’t break us, nor you, nor any of the things that make us family. Honestly, you and your sisters are always the best reasons for Dad and I to have uncomfortable feelings. We don’t expect to go through life without having to work through problems you guys will have.
You should know that Dad and I know your life is better, but harder in some ways by having two homes. Lay your stuff– any and all of it– the sordid, the good, the scary, the things that make you feel heavy, the things that are hard to say, the things you need help with– on us. Whatever is unpleasant will always pass and make way for joy, pride, and peace. Always. So you don’t need to skip the bad stuff, the hard stuff, or save anyone from it, darling. Life has built in the balm to our pain and if you give any problem enough time you’ll see how the universe works its magic on things.
I worry that you still gloss over those hard conversations and distancing yourself from consequences at ten. That you have conversations inside you that somehow never make it past your stomach, your heart, and/or your brain. I don’t know exactly what they are or which stories you hesitate to tell, but I know when you say, “I don’t remember” or “I don’t know” that they are there stuck somewhere in you. My inkling is that some of what holds you back is this: Sometimes telling your truth makes other people feel bad and that in turns will make you feel bad. If that’s true thing for you, well, you should feel really good. That quality is wonderful piece of being a decent human. Yet, I promise that letting the story, the feeling, or the question that is bouncing around on your insides come out into the world is far less painful than letting those nuggets than just sit inside you. In the end– it will be more than okay. Hard parts get even more hard often before they get way better. The way better can’t ever happen until you start the hard parts. Kind of tricky in a way, but also what makes being a person really special. Every human has hard parts and good parts of their life that fall apart and also will fall together. I hope you learn how to to say all the hard things. I hope you have the grace to let us stumble through it with you as we get used to hearing you share.
If that is a piece of the thing going on with you, I understand. Dad does too. We’ve been there a time or two. For us, sometimes going against Mom feels monumental. I don’t know how it feels for you. I also don’t know how it feels when you worry about breaking a rule or disappointing Dad or I. It might feel the same, harder, or perhaps it feels easier. Yet, I know how Dad and I feel when we have to ask Mom for something or when she doesn’t care for something we have done. It feels heavy, grave, and she takes up the whole room in a way. Our feelings either don’t matter or are picked to shreds in a microscope. The most benign things somehow lead to making her upset some days. Sometimes we don’t want to create more unpleasantness so Dad and I swallow our truths. We tread too lightly places and make ourselves smaller than we need be because somehow we convince ourselves it is not worth making Mom upset. We can see how yo might not tell a whole story or really answer a question as honestly as you can when it comes to us or Mom. Yet, if this is some of what is going on, life isn’t math, H. There is not just one answer to find. Say the things… make us upset… let’s see what grows…We have big shoulders.
For my part, I will try to not be afraid to ask about the stuff I don’t understand between Dad, Mom, You, and Me. I will listen less to that voice that says things aren’t my place because I think no one gets to decide what our place is for us. I promise that I will forever be up front about what I can commit to– even if it sometimes is stamped not good enough– because I love you and your Mom too much to make false promises or set expectations too high. I also promise to be open minded and listen, to look for better options when we say No to one thing, and to remind you that while you *know* you can tell us anything it works better if you actually try it. I promise that even if thought the time we’re together is part-time you are part of this house everyday. You are in every decisions, every thought, every action because we don’t have part-time love or part-time kids. No one really gets to see how it works, but there isn’t another way to be here– you don’t get a part-time heart in life. I promise to do the hard things, let the things get harder so that they will end up better– again and again and again so you can see that your truth, the stories that get stuck, are the really good parts of life in the end. I always thought courage was kind of contagious. Maybe this family can keep making each other braver in life.
I can’t wait to see who you grow into at twenty and all the adventures, the problems, the triumphs, and the amazing parts that are going to make up your life, H. I am so glad you came into my life. It would be so empty without you in it. I love you , kid. Happy tenth birthday!
All my love,
The unofficial stepmom.