Monday, March 18, 2013 • 7:32pm
A wonderful thing happened…it wasn’t forced, it wasn’t solicited, it wasn’t egged on by an adult hoping a child would do something kind. Last Friday afternoon, several of us were relaxing in the connected space of our dining room, living room and kitchen. G stood at the dining room table emptying Curls’s backpack and looking through his school folder. I saw her read something on a sheet of white lined paper and didn’t think much of it. Then, she handed it to me. In a thousand years, I wouldn’t have guessed…
Dear Liz, (step mommy)
In honor of womans history month, I just wanted to say thank you for all the help you have gave to my family. For example, when my mother is not home you always take care of me, when my dad can not. I really admire you and always hope you will stay with my mom.
Sincerely, “Curls” (he used his real name)
(insert a drawn heart with a picture of a boy and a woman inside, one labeled “me” and one labeled “Liz”)
A minute earlier, I was decompressing from a routinely insane week. After reading this, I was glowing…radiating…it was like I’d been elected President, nominated Chief Justice and just hit a walk-off homerun to clinch the pennant…except it was better. Presumably, Curls was given the task of choosing a woman to honor, and he has very worthy candidates in his mom, his sister, his aunts and his grandmothers. During this moment in school, with potentially countless things roaming through his mind (can I have a friend over, I’m so sick of being here, when’s hitting practice this weekend, I’m hungry, what time is it), he thought of me.
Nothing is as humbling as love from a child. This note made me realize how everything we do is on display. The children in our midst – our own and others – are sizing us up, judging our trustworthiness (our just plain worthiness), and they tell it like they see it. If you ask me, I’d say that every now and then I fix Curls some dinner or run him to a gym for practice. Once, we flew together to North Carolina to meet his mom. But I don’t know if I’d say I really take care of him. His Mom and Dad have that very well covered.
I think back to when G and I were first getting to know each other. Curls was about five years old, the baby of the family. We’d see each other at school and sometimes, we’d stand near a tree and talk. Curls hated it. He’d pull on his mommy’s hand and say, “let’s GO,” like all kids do when they feel their mother’s attention being diverted. I wonder if he remembers that now.
Until I get a proper frame, this letter is hanging on a wall in our office. I love to look at it, but I don’t want to read it too often, get too accustomed to it; I still want it to surprise me, to find new things in it, and the other day, I did. I was re-reading it (okay, for the hundredth time) and I noticed that Curls parenthetically described me as “step mommy,” not the less intimate, more guarded step mother or step mom. It’s not a designation I take lightly, and I will do what I can to keep it.
This isn’t to take away from the wonderful expressions of affection I’m lucky to receive from all our kids…the strong bear hugs from Blue; how Dimples won’t let me out of his clutches when I try to say goodnight; Lashes asking me when he hasn’t seen me in a while, “how was your day, Liz?” with a lilt in his voice and a sincere desire to know; or how Red patiently recounts to me every detail of a play she saw or sings me a song (talk about a voice!) she’s rehearsing for an audition.
Like many blended families, we have our hiccups, our sneezes, our all out coughing fits. Every now and then, something like Curls’s letter happens, and I feel gratitude, joy and humility beyond measure. Keep it coming, sweet boy, but not too much – we need to keep the size of my head in check.
Liz Kingsley lives in Westfield with her girlfriend and their five children. During the day, she writes poetry and columns about her family, directs and teaches at The Writers Studio, and helps out at a local elementary school. At night, she collapses from exhaustion.
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