I have a vivid memory as a teenager of yelling at my Mother, “I didn’t ask for two mothers! I don’t need two mothers! I don’t even want *you* and you got me this other one who won’t leave me alone!” I was 14 and about as revolting as every other fourteen year old, or maybe just a little more. And like most step-children, I resented the heck out of my step-Mom, Susie. I have to say, I’m awed by anyone who sticks with it through the outs and ins of step-parenting – you’ve got my admiration – just thinking back on how unrewarding it was for my step-mother makes me realize y’all who take on someone else’s kids are *saints*.
Sue had a whole lot of crazy ideas about raising kids that she cruelly inflicted on us. She expected them to have good manners and behave respectfully *all the time.* She demanded that they do chores – even though all she’d done was renovate the kitchen of the house we lived in, earn most of the money to buy the food we ate and cook a healthy dinner from scratch every single night, she didn’t see how totally unreasonable it was to expect my sister and I to take turns doing the dishes – and she even expected us to wipe down the counters.
She cared about crazy things – old stuff, fixing and repairing it. She cared about building and making things, about cooking good food from scratch and about all sorts of old fashioned skills that were totally irrelevant. She even expected us to try these things out.
I’m sure Sue spent some time thinking that the custom of exposing children on a mountain top to freeze to death ought to have been revived, but she didn’t say so. There was never a moment when we doubted we were her daughters – and despite my claim that I did not want two mothers, there was a little quiet inkling of just how lucky I’d gotten that began to emerge when I was a teenager.
Some thirty one years later, and hopefully having outgrown (mostly) being a resentful little pill, I recognize I won the lottery when my mother fell in love. I’ve come to be grateful for the discipline she imposed on us, for the way she stabilized our chaotic childhood, for all the things she’s done for me and taught me.
For my whole life Susie has supported me in everything I’ve done and in every conceivable way, and her values have become by osmosis our own. My sisters and I joke that even her genome has now penetrated our own – we talk about the things we “get from” Susie all the time. Our houses have that “Susie was here” feel to them – the things we love have started to merge with hers.
We are her daughters in every way that matters, and now my sons follow their grandmother “Nunu” around and she builds things with them and takes them to the community garden with her. My sister named her daughter for Susie. Last year, Isaiah at five asked me of Nunu and Nana, “which one had you again?” I don’t blame him for not knowing.
Despite considerable efforts to pass her skill at building and fixing things down to me it didn’t take, but Susie is kind and unjudgemental about that fact – last week she and my mother arrived bringing a set of beautiful wooden nest boxes and roosts to improve my chicken coop. We’d said we’d get around to making something to replace the space under the goat manger eventually, but Susie was pretty sure how long eventually might take, and arrived with them. She’s a hands-on person, always generous with her time and energy to us. My house is filled with things she’s made for us, and my life is filled with ways she’s enriched it. As always, she claimed it was no big deal. But as always, it always is.
I may not have wanted a second mother, but I needed one – and I’m so grateful I got her. Susie was exactly what my family needed, she’s become both my beloved parent and my friend and the best thing I can imagine to grow up to be is more like her. Happy 60th birthday, Susie, thanks for everything, and most thanks for not exposing me on a mountain top, even though I probably deserved it!