The Bigger Picture
by Judy Bonicelli Sarles
I'm beginning to think God is not listening. I said I wanted
a horse, not to be a stepmom. After watching "Stepmom"
for the second time
I realized the death of the mom forced the stepmom into a position
of seeing the bigger picture that we often lose sight of in the
midst of the daily travails of being step-people. Like the Stepford
Wives, stepmoms have a dark side. We hate ourselves for our jealousy
and pettiness. How can we be thinking of ourselves when the wee
little ones need so much more than we do? "No, I want to sit next
to daddy." "Yuk, what is that?!" directed at my gourmet meals
I slaved over. Many is the movie I've watched with my beloved
out of reach and a small body holding me at arms' length while
snuggled up against husband/dad. Many nights we ate what The Princess
of Quite a Lot wanted (how much macaroni & cheese can the body
I've learned as time went on that I am
not inflicting permanent damage on her fragile psyche if I tell
my stepdaughter to make her own meal if she turns her nose up
at what I make.
I take care of my 85-year-old mother when
I return to my hometown, and she needs assistance bathing. I was
lovingly sponging her off, the very way she must have bathed me
as a child. I now know every inch of her body the same as she
knew every inch of mine. It hit me what a full circle life makes.
I am Italian, and our heritage is to take care of our family,
no matter what. It occurred to me as I reached for the adult diaper
that I may (probably will) be in this position someday. And who
will change my Depends? It dawns on my that it may very well be
my stepdaughter, if I'm lucky and we nourish and cherish the budding
relationship between us.
Because after 8 years and a lot of mistakes,
I'm beginning to really understand that this relationship is like
a garden. Like it or not it's in my yard, and I can let the weeds
grow up and neglect it or I can water and prune and lovingly care
for it. I have my very own relationship with her, outside and
apart from that of my husband and I or his with her.
Suddenly the picture snapped into focus
and I got it. All the pain, all the jealousy, all the pettiness
shifts into the background. I am no longer vying for her father's
attention, I am old and I need her attention. My family is becoming
my stepdaughter. A special place is already forming between us
that two women can enjoy. I buy her jewellry and purple things
(she loves purple). She hugs me now when she sees me, and I get
Suddenly it's an honor to know her, as
an individual. No, I'm not in the same league as her mom and dad.
I'm in a different league, a league that is becoming very important
in its own way. I'm in a different compartment of her life, and
that's a special place to be. It's what I make it, and therefore
it has no limits. I've been given another member of family.
In our family we stuck by each other, from
my beloved Uncle Guido who was a practical joker with a drinking
problem to distant Aunt Rena and all the "mental" pecadilloes
in between. My grandfather Severino came over to America with
my grandmother Amabile and famiy. Then he went back to Italy to
collect some money he had left behind with family and somehow
in the process got drafted into the Italian Army and fought during
World War I.
In the meantime my grandmother is in a
strange country, doesn't speak the language with four kids and
no source of income! She got word over a year later he was found
in a hospital in Rome having had his toes amputated from frostbite.
He was holed up in the Alps fighting off the enemy. Well God only
knows what she went through in that year when she didn't know
where he was. She must have been frantic, but she rallied, taking
in sewing, laundry and selling her incredible raviolis to make
money. She kept the family afloat and when Grandpa came back she
welcomed him back and they lived together until he died many years
later. My dad & mom moved back in with Grandma to help out when
Grandpa got sick and raised us four kids there. We cared for Grandpa
until he died in his own bed then loved and cared for our Grandma
until she passed away.
It was the biggest privilege of my life
to be with her at the end. I bathed her, fed her, sneaked her
treats, fixed her hair, listened to her stories about the old
country and savored her spirit. I miss her still 23 years later.
Now 23 years later I am doing all the same
things for my own mother who has always been so vital and full
of life. We don't always know who our favorite people are going
to be, and where our help is going to come from. I am looking
at my stepdaughter in a whole new light.
In college a girl I absolutely despised
was my roommate. I swore I'd never like her. We struggled and
fought and lived together unhappily. Then one day we had to accomplish
something together and the walls came down. I've never loved anyone
quite like that.
To go from enemies to soul friends is a
unique experience, one to be savored and astonished by. Sometimes
life and love doesn't work the way we think it should and grows
in unexpected places (like those beautiful ferns in my garden
that grow wild out of the side of a rock!) I'm tending my garden,
my stepdaughter's heart, more carefully now (for a selfish reason?)
Maybe so, but hopefully I will leave her with a precious fragrance.
We have a relationship punctuated by dissonant
emotions, blood, sweat and tears, that is all our own. No one
else can really share fully in it so it's special to us and I'm
beginning to really treasure it and am so proud of it. I made
it and I can break it, but I won't. Thank God she is resilient
and overlooks, forgives me for my great gaffes.
I'm so lucky that she loves me in spite
of my shortcomings, but then isn't that the definition of family?
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