Stepmothers get a bum rap, but I was determined to overcome that. I made sure I let my stepsons enjoy quality time with their father. I opened my home and heart to them, paid their college tuition (even during the time when neither would speak to us), cooked plenty of Cincinnati-style chili, did tons of laundry, and chipped in for a tour of Europe for Drew when he graduated. I also supported my husband emotionally during the Time of Estrangement, assuring him that it wouldn't go on forever. It didn't. Gradually, things became Fine.
My husband and I grew attached to each of Drew's girlfriends, and our hearts broke when he severed ties with one who'd been living with him. It was his call - and the right call, for the right reasons - but his heartache had its origins in the death - albeit temporary - of his dream of starting a family.
When he became engaged to "Nell", we were thrilled. In addition to good looks, moxie, talent, and a great work ethic, this fine woman truly loved Drew as nobody else had. You could not find a more awesome daughter-in-law in all the land.
By now, Drew had become an honest-to-goodness job creator, expanding the successful company that he'd launched a few years earlier. Nell worked for a local non-profit, and last Mother's Day (not my favorite holiday), they announced that they were expecting a baby. My immediate visceral reaction was one of joy... and relief, as though a tremendous weight had been lifted from me. My slate had been wiped clean. Others would carry on from here. It felt... good. Really good.
Still, I was a step-mother (albeit with a step-daughter-in-law and a step-grandchild on the way), and while nobody else in the family seemed at all concerned about that status, I still felt "separate" and unequal. I wasn't entitled to claim these fine people as my "real" family. I was happy for my husband, (who was overjoyed upon learning that this baby would be a boy), but this was still "his" experience, not "ours".
Mr. Carolina assured me that this wasn't the case at all, and nothing that Drew or Nell had ever said or done would have supported my stubborn stance. It's just... well, an infertility thing, some emotional baggage that you carry with you, for no good reason.
We had planned to pay a visit after the baby had settled in, so as not to be underfoot with all of the local relatives, but Drew was insistent that we - both of us - be there for the birth. The due date was Mr. Carolina's birthday, and we arranged our flights to arrive in the Frozen Tundra of New Hampshire that day.
Nell's water broke on the morning before our arrival, and after 26 hours of effort, the doctors decided to perform a Caesarean section, which - given Nell's petite size -seemed inevitable.
By the time we arrived, mother, father, and baby "Brady" (yeah, we're all Patriot's fans, so I'll call him that to protect his identity even though that game against the Ravens didn't turn out our way...) were doing fine. Mr. Carolina scooped Brady into his arms, beaming with pride, and sat with him for a long while. Then he asked me to hold him. "Really?" I asked apprehensively. I don't know a thing about babies, but before I knew it, there he was, swaddled and sleeping, warm and adorable, far off in dreams about his adventures on the Amniotic Sea.
Holding Brady in my arms, I marveled at his ability to simply be. He didn't squawk. He didn't squirm. He didn't grimace. He just allowed his 7-pound, 11-ounce self to be, sinking into me like a stone finding the bottom of a quiescent pond. The gurgling of his digestive system, adapting itself to life "outside" of the womb, was the only sign that this little being was immersed in any activity beyond sleep.
Born into a world of loving parents, uncles, and grandparents, he slept in peace, never imagining how he has transformed all our lives. Here we were: a tiny little family, the new parents grinning with joy, all of us amazed. It was as real as it gets. I dared to say it to myself: I was a real grandmother.
Mr. Carolina, to his everlasting credit, never once said, "I told you so." One more reason I love that guy to pieces.