The first time I met my stepmother, three things happened in this order:
1) My dad gave my sister and me a Nintendo.
2) A dark-eyed woman with red lipstick walked into my dad’s apartment and said “Hi.”
3) We then replied, “Bye” and turned back around to play Super Mario Bros. (the original version)
During this time in my life, I watched The Parent Trap (the Hailey Mills version) again and again, trying desperately to figure out how to get my parents back together. If only I had a twin sister. If only our parents had sent us to a summer camp together where we could discover our past and unite against divorce. Instead, I had a dopey little sister, who cried almost every day for our mom when we were with our dad—and for Dad when we were with Mom. I also had a mom who cried every day for my dad when we were with her.
One weekend my father took the four of us, him, my sister, the new girlfriend and me, to see Arachnophobia. It was 1990; I was wearing a shirt with tassels all over it and a gaudy peace sign choker. While watching the deadly Venezuelan spiders claim victim after victim, I couldn’t shake the feeling of crawling across my skin. I remember twitching a lot in my seat. I remember thinking, Parent Trap.
In The Parent Trap, the dad has a new girlfriend. A young, beautiful girlfriend. My dad too had a young, beautiful girlfriend. (A girlfriend my mother often referred to as “The Mexican Hussy”.) The girlfriend in the movie barely tolerates the twins. Thus, the girls are totally justified in pranking her. During an unfortunate camping trip, the girls attract a bear to lick honey off the girlfriend’s feet. The beauty queen surrenders, leaving the dad behind with his very naughty but victorious daughters. With the girlfriend gone, the mom is free to reclaim her throne.
I excused myself to go to the bathroom and walked a couple of rows back in the dark theatre. I untied one of my high-tops and removed the shoelace. I tied a knot at the end of lace and tugged it a couple of times.
Popcorn stuck to my hands, as I crawled down the movie theatre aisle until I got one row behind my dad and his girlfriend. I positioned myself ever so quietly behind them and waited for the music to swell. Waited until the spider crawled ominously across a towel, down a shirt sleeve across the big screen. Waited until the music hit loud so I could throw the shoelace over the shoulder of my dad’s beauty queen. The music inflated; I threw.
I wanted her to scream. I wanted her to jump up and run down the carpeted rows of the theatre, shouting to my father that we were horrible little monsters. I wanted her to cuss us out, to say something so heinous about us that my dad could never forgive her.
I held my breath and tried not to squeal with delight. At any moment she was going to shriek, rip the spider-like tangle from her hair and run. And be gone.
But she didn’t. After a minute, she casually turned around and looked at me in confusion. Maybe it was pity. Maybe she had seen The Parent Trap. Maybe she knew what a sad and confused girl I was. But by then my dad noticed, and he hissed through his teeth to get back to my seat.
She married my dad less than a year later and asked us to be the flower girls. She was kind to us even when we asked her things like, “Are you a real Mexican?” knowing full and well she was Puerto Rican. She took us out a lot—bowling, swimming, golfing, horseback riding, even when our dad wasn’t there—which was a lot. Even though we probably never said thank you and probably always talked about our mom. Our perfect, beautiful, broken-hearted mom.
But our new stepmom sang at the top of her lungs in her car. She danced when she heard a good song on the radio. She made our dad laugh which was rare. She was even kind to our mother who was, often, not kind to her.
As I got older, and I struggled with issues with my own mother, my stepmother, who had lost her mother at twenty-six, reminded me that I would never get another mother. She told me to be patient with my mother, to forgive her, to never stop loving her, to be kind to her even if I didn’t feel like being kind, to not judge her. She often urged me to call my mother, to go and see her. You only get one, she said.
But the truth is, I got two. My mom is my mom. But my stepmom is my mom too.
Mother’s Day is about so much more than mothers. Mother’s Day isn’t necessarily about the woman who birthed you. It’s about women. How our sisterhood, our love, and our contributions to this world are inimitable and momentous. If you’ve ever been loved by a woman, you know the love of a mother.
Oh sure, it’s about moms too. But it’s also about the stand-in mothers. So many of us were raised, influenced, and encouraged by women that weren’t our mothers.
So here’s to you: To our mothers. Our stepmothers. To our aunts and grandmas. Great grandmas and godmothers. Sisters and cousins. To our friend’s mothers. To our mother-in-laws. To our teachers and mentors. To our best friends. Here’s to the women who have loved, love, and will love us.
Happy Mother’s Day.