Jim's note: This is the first time I've posted someone else's work and as you read the essay below, you'll agree when I say I hope this is not the last time Jane makes a guest appearance.
In the wonderful world that is the blogosphere and the incredible journey that is life, I met Jane through the feature on me in the local paper - Jane being the reporter whi interviewed me and wrote the article! Since then, we've exchanged emails and a nice friendship has been blossoming. When Jane approached me with this essay idea (asking if I would like to write about it), I pled with her to write it because of the emotional immediacy and impact. A happy collaboration was born.
I'm sure you, dear reader, will be moved by Jane's addition to my blog.
My son doesn’t remember his father and I together. We separated when he was 14 months old, days after he took his first wobbling steps. Days, too, after a trip home to Wisconsin that was supposed to be about writing a book and ended up being the realization my marriage was over.
I left quickly, hoping Robby would not remember. Hoping, too, to leave while both my ex and I had enough youth and faith in love to find someone else.
Two years ago, when Robby was 7, my ex married again. She was childless, in her mid-40s and had had a hysterectomy. She had, I’m sure, resigned herself to the fact she would never have the children she’d always wanted.
Then, along came my ex, and with him the cuddly blond boy who is our son. My son.
My ex told me how much she loved Robby. He encouraged him, he said, to call her “Mom.” “He has two mothers now,” he said.
It seemed beyond anyone’s definition of grace for me to accept the idea.
My ex, I think, saw it as the surest way to enfold her into his life, put Robby at ease and complete his new family circle. I saw it as a clear and deep betrayal.
For Robby, however, it was not about biology but love - the more, the better. How lucky he was, I tried to tell myself, to have three parents now.
That Mother’s Day, I waited for the annual school project gift, the lovingly made, often homely offering created with the teacher’s guidance. It did not come.
When next I went by my ex’s house, I saw on an end table a homemade necklace – a plaster-of-Paris mold strung on a bright green ribbon. The mold was a rough depiction of a woman’s face framed by brown hair. Like me. Like his stepmother.
My ex told me Robby had given it to his wife. He said no more, but I heard the words hanging between us: “Instead of you.”
I called my mother, and cried to her from across the miles. Her voice cracked as she searched for words of comfort.
I wish I could say I let it go, sucked it up, simply felt bone-deep certainty that Robby knew well who his real mother was and that nothing and no one could alter our bond. But I did not. The pain seemed too great.
Instead, I talked to him. I asked him why he had given his Mother’s Day gift to her. She was his stepmom, I reminded him. Presents like that, I said, should go to your real mom.
He looked up at me, his brown eyes shiny with tears.
“But Mom,” he said, “she’s never had a Mother’s Day.”
Since then, my ex, his wife and I have settled into a fairly comfortable relationship. We’ve sat three-in-a-row through Christmas programs, parent/teacher conferences and karate lessons, adjusted schedules around 4-H and Cub Scouts, and stopped arguing about who pays for what.
We have all learned to bend. Sometimes beyond, as my yoga instructor insists, the point of flexibility.
Last week, heading back from our weekly pick-up point, Robby gave me another gift.
“I was just thinking,” he said, “how lucky I am to have three parents.”
“How so?” I asked.
“Well, Sherry’s teaching me about drawing. Dad teaches me how to fix things. And you …” He frowned. “I’m trying to think what you teach me. Maybe about computers.”
And maybe, I hoped, a little something about flexibility.
Robby smiled brightly. I laughed.
How lucky indeed.