Tuesday, May 14, 2013

On Being a Mom, Part 2

So, my Mother's Day post the other day only felt half finished, half finished and totally self-indulgent. Because on every Mother's Day, I'm aware of how lucky I am to be a mom, even though I feel like I do a crappy job most of the time. I'm also aware of how lucky my kids are that, despite the health issues and various crises that seem to come our way, our family is generally in tact. I know so many people who are not nearly as lucky--people who want kids but can't have them, people whose kids have died leaving behind gaping holes in their lives, people who've been abandoned by their moms, people whose moms died way too young. And, so I've always struggled a bit with Mother's Day, for in many ways it feels excessive, exclusionary, and completely unnecessary.


The first time my stepdaughter met my friends, one of them asked Big Sissy, "So, what's it like to have Moe as a mom? Is she more like your sister or is she more like your mom?"

At the time, Big Sissy was probably 13, and she gave the perfect answer to an incredibly insensitive question by a too-curious friend. She said, "I don't know. I've never really had either."

The first few years of our marriage, we lived in Japan. Poor Big Sissy, who was in junior high at the time, had to deal with someone who was obviously not her birth mom, tagging along to various school events. And, while the novelty of her dad's American friend might have been fun when we were just dating, the reality of a non-Japanese stepmom was something else altogether. It marked Big Sissy as different in ways she'd never had to deal with before.  It couldn't have been easy, though she never said as much.

When Ren and I dated, if Big Sissy called me anything, she called me by my first name. But our marriage necessitated the need to call me something else. After all, I was part of the family. And, I was always there. Problem is that there really isn't a good word for stepmom. I mean, there are formal terms for such a person, but nothing that works well in daily conversation. I was her father's wife and she was the daughter from another marriage. I suppose the issues are similar in the US, but in our case, it led to a complete inability for Big Sissy to address me as anything but "ne, ne," which translates something like "Hey, you."

For the longest time, I was simply "ne, ne."

Then we moved to the US. At the time, Ren and I'd been married for nearly three years and were still very much struggling to figure out how to be a family. Briefly, Big Sissy considered staying behind to live with her grandmother and finish school in Japan. I may not have done many things right those first few years, but I will always be glad that I managed to convince her she belonged with us.

One of the many unintended consequences of that move was Big Sissy's ability to finally give me a name. Mom. I was never Mama or Okaasan or even Mother or Mommy, but I did finally become Mom. It's not a name either of us use lightly, but it is the name we use.

2013 Mother's Day card from Big Sissy, edited ever-so-slightly
I've written a little in the past about being a stepmom. In my experience, there's nothing that's easy about it. There were days, months, and even years with Big Sissy that felt like a total slog. And yet. And, yet. I know that being a stepmom is probably one of the most important things I've ever done (and maybe will ever do). I also know I can never really be Big Sissy's mom. I mean, I try to fill those holes that the early loss of her birth mom left, but I also know there are some things that just can't quite be fixed.

And, I guess, in a way, that's why I may never wear the title of mom comfortably, not from Big Sissy, not from Sky, Pink P, or Stow. Being a mom is major.  None of us deserve the weight of it, nor are most of us prepared for its challenges.  I can only always be grateful for the chance to mom these four kids--that and to pray with all my might that I don't totally screw it up.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

thanks for sharing!