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The Tale of the Front Seat, From Memoirs of a New Stepmom
by Norma “Rosie” Wigutoff February 2001

I’ve just begun a writing course and the instructor advises, “Be sure to make trouble for your main character. Every good story is built around resolution of conflict.” Perfect, I thought. What else IS there in stepfamilies? A little harsh, you might say? Then you’ve never been there.

I’m Ruthie. Three months ago at the age of 47, I married a sweet man named Craig, age 51, the father of 12-year old Betsy and freshly turned 10-year old Eddie. I’ve never been married and don’t have any kids of my own.

During my brief and as yet uncharted career as a stepmother, I have already become convinced that the “step” in the word “stepfamily” means all the bazillion big and little steps everyone must take to make this new kind of family work. This includes some stepping on, over, and around one another!

Betsy, a tall, willowy, clothes-crazy teenager is pleased that her Dad has remarried. She seems to think it is cool that he has a “permanent girlfriend” after being alone for so long. She also enjoys having her own bathroom in our big, new house where she and Eddie spend three nights a week.

Eddie, on the other hand appears displeased with my arrival. Perhaps because while Craig was so busy being alone for so long, he and Eddie were a dynamic duo. Having to suddenly share your Dad with a strange grown-up who lives in the same house, God forbid, is not an easy thing for any ten-year old boy. This also means that his Dad and Mom will NOT ever be getting back together and this does not strike Eddie as spectacular, either.

One sunny, cold Sunday afternoon Craig and I were picking Eddie up from his friend Jack’s house. Craig owns a big, roomy van in which he transports lots of kids lots of times to lots of places, just about every day. When I am along we sit in the front bucket seats and often hold hands across the space in between. On this particular day we were chatting across the fence with Jack’s Mom while waiting for Eddie to finish his last few basketball throws. After a while, he bounded out from the corner of the house and made a sprint to the van shouting, “I’m sitting in front!” This was not the first occurrence of its kind. Dangerous airbags and my tendency towards big-time carsickness were quickly losing their powers of persuasion. “You’ll have to ask Ruthie,” Craig said, “It’s her seat.” Eddie wheeled around, gave me a dazzling glare and said, “Can I?” “Sure,” I answered, not really sure at all that this was the right answer. Eddie wheeled again, climbed into the front and declared loudly, “It’s not her seat anyway!” Shock waves seared through my chest as I climbed into the back like a guilty 5-year old who’d been unable to stop from stealing cookies in a friend’s lunchbox. I was sure I was losing my mind as I began to hear voices in my head. “Well, is it your seat, really?!?” Yes? No? Yes?”

On Saturday morning (House Meeting time) Craig made a special banana waffle breakfast. The “house rules” discussion and “feelings check-in” limped along without much gusto until we broached the subject of the “front seat of the van.” At that point, Eddie jumped up and declared he had to go practice his saxophone. “Not yet,” Craig said. “For now, when Ruthie is in the van, the front seat is where she sits. That’s the rule.” Eddie stared at Craig. “No way! That’s just dumb! That’s not the rule!” “I’m afraid it is, Eddie,” I said, my mouth full of imaginary cotton balls. “It’s one of the privileges of being your Dad’s wife and a grown-up.” By now Eddie was jumping up and down. “No, that’s not the rule! It’s not! It’s not! It just isn’t fair!” and with that, he stomped out of the kitchen. And that was the end of that house meeting. Craig and I looked at each other and smiled weakly. He gave me a big hug and I slunk off to our room feeling like Hitler. Within a few minutes, Eddie emerged from his room, singing his rap songs, skateboard under his arm. I was amazed. Was it possible he had already forgotten the whole sordid affair that had just taken place?

A couple of days later, Craig, Eddie and I headed out to the van on our way to pick up Betsy. Without missing a beat, Eddie clamored into the back seat, directly behind his Dad’s and was settled in with his Walkman, already immersed in his 10-year old boy fantasy universe by the time I was fastening the seatbelt up front in “my seat”. As we drove off, Craig reached out, took my hand and we smiled at each other.

“Well, one small step for Eddie into the back seat of the van.” I thought. “And one giant step for all of us on this tricky stepping stone path to becoming a new kind of happy family.”


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