If you’ve read this blog for a while you know that I have three mothers. My birth mother and adoptive mothers are each different sorts of toxic mysteries to me. What my mothers lacked in love, concern and class my step-mother Robbie delivered in aces.
I was 14 when my dad married his second wife on April Fools Day. Funny enough my dad also married my mother on April Fools Day. He feared forgetting an anniversary he said. Robbie had been married previously; a war romance that failed in peacetime. Her first marriage dissolved as amicably as two mature adults could manage.
My father hadn’t been so lucky with his divorce. He suffered through an extremely acrimonious divorce. Then he was a miserable failure at being single. He had a cold, dark bachelor’s apartment with his sole piece of furniture an upholstered mid-century lounge chair in which he slept in the zero gravity position.
There was the infamous story of the bouncing pot roast — his first attempt to cook a real meal “at home.” After that he gorged on Happy Hour food in saloons and drank enough beer to forget that he didn’t even own a card table and chairs.
Then he met Robbie in her cute red shoes.
So many stepmothers get bad reps. Too many earn them. Not Robbie.
She took an original approach to making friends with her new husband’s young offspring. She decided to be a friendly adult and to extend herself when the opportunity presented itself.
She bought extra tickets to the ballet for my brother and me and told us during the drive downtown that of course we must know the story of Romeo and Juliette or the Nutcracker, but could she share her favorite part of the story we would be seeing? Then she explained the timing of the curtains and intermissions; how lights dimming or bells ringing signaled certain things to the audience. By the time we took our seats we had a pretty good idea of exactly what would happen that night and we were relaxed yet happy anticipating our role in the evening.
She bought us books on topics she knew already held our interest. She wrapped presents elaborately and delighted in hosting dinners, Sunday football get-togethers or birthdays.
She never tried to be our mother. She tried to be a nice wife to our father and to include us in ways that made sense.
When I was fifteen she bought me my first real gold earrings and told me that they were special and that if I didn’t like them to give them back for safekeeping because when I was older I would love them. I did give them back and she was funny in a good way about it; she was gracious. When I was 25 she gave them to me again and I drooled over the paisley drops I still enjoy.
For over 30 years she worked as the office manager for a team of San Francisco psychiatrists and she taught me to spot crazy at a hundred yards and then to be as kind as possible.
I often describe her to others as the wife character played by Myrna Loy in the Thin Man movies. She taught me that fur was dead by the time you met it on a sales rack so don’t feel guilty for loving it. That there are many pretty things in the world but it doesn’t mean you have to buy them all. She showed me the difference between silk and cashmere; beer and bourbon; manners and true grace.
She possessed a great combination of sophisticated wit and bawdy humor. She was as comfortable at the opera as she was in a bowling alley and she made you feel comfortable too.
This is what cracks me up about my dream step-mother. She is truly independent but when she needs help she is bang-your-shoe-on-the-table demanding. At 87, she’s allowed. She was in the hospital recently and it amazed me how often the nurses pulled me aside to comment on how amazing she was.
When I delivered her back home to her senior apartment complex, the kitchen staff came out to welcome her back, the 25-year-old receptionist hugged her genuinely. The little man who changes light bulbs and vacuums the hallways was relieved to see her back home.
Sitting in her borrowed wheelchair wearing a gorgeous purple cashmere turtleneck and black slacks, her simple gold bangles jingling as she shook hands, she reminded me that even a stepmother can win anyone over by just being the sort of person who really sees other people and chooses to focus on their good qualities.
Typical of her thoughtfulness, when she moved into her senior apartment years ago I remember her asking me how I wanted to be introduced.
I could say that you are my late husband’s adult daughter, but wouldn’t it be easier to say that you are my daughter? she said.
Of course, I agreed with her. Funny, but every year it gets a little bit easier to just be Robbie’s daughter.
Until next Sunday,
Rayne Wolfe’s dream is to write her first book Confessions of an Undutiful Daughter by the end of 2011. She completed her dream journey May of 2011 on 8WD after a year living her dream. You can find her at Toxic Mom Toolkit on Facebook.