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
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.”