At the center of everything that I'm grateful for in my daily life glows these three shining lights. I tucked the girls into bed for the first time ten Thanksgivings ago. They were all single digits and glitterbombs, all dolls and painted nails, all make believe and dances. They were so gangly and immediate in their emotions, when they looked to me for some guidance, I think I stepped into adulthood for the first time. They came into my life with a lot of love, but I'd be lying if I said I came in knowing anything about being a stepmom, or that being a parent of any kind, especially during early teen years, is simple. To our girls' credit, it's not easy having two houses and four parents all poking into their business, and they navigated it pretty well most of the time. They made it a little easier for us too: they'd switch around, and one of them always kept our house in laughter even when the other went to the dark side.
Somehow - we might have hit the jackpot on this one - they're both shining pretty bright right now, full of creative energy, navigating the middle and late-teens with drive, inspiration, love. Nowadays, with Em already out in the working world, it's generally some combo of us - rarely all 4 - in the same room at the same time. Our house is a whirlwind of the arts - Es always bent over her drawing pads, Em off at auditions or modeling shoots, Darby surrounded by his synths and drum loops, and me working out songs on the guitar.
Just in a wee little social media post I couldn't possibly say how much these three inspire me, but Thanksgiving always means a lot to me because of them, and I keep trying, in my songs and stories, to do them justice. I still tuck them in at night with lights-out talks and back massages. So deeply, deeply grateful to these three for bringing me into their family ten Thanksgivings ago.
As complicated as parent/child relationships can be, stepparenting has this additional challenge:
There is no guarantee of love. Not at the beginning of the relationship with the kids, not through the years, not from the kids toward the stepparent, nor the other way around, at any point.
Stepmothers, in particular, are difficult and complicated for children, because there are loyalties and alliances to the biological mother that the children must navigate. Most times, if the stepmother is there after a divorce in the first family, and there are two households that the children orbit around, the children must learn to adapt to different values, different rules, different cultures, different expectations, different dynamics.
Those differences in households are likely some of the factors that led to the divorce in the first family to begin with, and so the stepmother and biological mother frequently do not share values, leading to dynamics between the two mothers that the children must also navigate. The partner - biological dad, in this case - can get caught in the middle as he himself negotiates between his former and present partners. Children always come first, which means that stepmothers must many times bite their tongues, step aside, acquiesce.
When the stepmother has come to the family without her own biological children, as I did, she is simultaneously childless and a mother. She may, as I did, have deep desire to nurture the stepchildren as she would have nurtured her own. She may find that the children simultaneously accept some nurturing and reject others -- because, after all, they have a biological mother living not far away. The stepmom in this case must find a tenuous, untrod path to walk that is not depicted in any fairy tale, movie, book, or pop culture touchstone. If she doesn't want to be the "evil stepmother," and cannot be the "good mother," she must invent her own role, and move against every depiction she has ever seen of women's roles in the family.
This is what I want to say here:
I have found that the greatest gift of stepmothering is a gift that doesn't come easy. With no guarantee of love, many times a stepmother can close her heart, turn away, reject the child and the biological mother and, in some way, her spouse. In that case, no one wins. The other way is harder, but I have to thank Darby for supporting me in my efforts to always choose an open heart. To soften when I want to flare. To talk when I want to shut down. To go upstairs and give love to those girls when I have wanted to hide.
There is no guarantee of love for stepmothers, but ten Thanksgivings down, I don't doubt the love between me and my girls. When I say that they have been my greatest teachers, this is what I mean: They have taught me again and again, every day since ten Thanksgivings ago, what it means to choose love.
Voting is not hard, but it's not necessarily the easiest of things to do. We are hard-wired to conserve energy, and going out of our way to vote takes a bit of effort. It's easier when an effort is routine - like brushing teeth or chores; or when there's a palpable and quick positive response, like a paycheck or a grade; or if there's immediate avoidance of a negative response, like a scolding or arrest. It is harder when we can't readily see the importance of our effort.
If you've ever played on a sports team or in an orchestra, you know how intrinsic your part is to the success of the whole. Even in the sea of strings, every violin adds to the strength, power, and poignancy of the music. Even if the listener can't identify your alto line, your presence in the choir has been written into the score because your unidentifiable contribution is of utmost importance to the impact.
Voting requires all of us to add our unidentifiable singular voice to the choir for the benefit of the whole. That is the foundational concept of a democratic nation.
Voting is a gift to us from those from before who overcame their own hard-wired impulse for inertia. Every vote -- even those who had the right since the beginning of this nation -- was hard-earned through some kind of revolutionary battle. Our forefathers and foremothers overcame their own impulse for inertia because the desire for freedom for themselves and future unknown generations was greater than their individual impulse to conserve energy. Our forebears understood that it would take effort to have a say in the rules and people that govern their individual lives. Freedom was worth the effort of interrupting their daily schedule. Those forebears in demographics that had less historical power had to sustain the effort to battle their own inertia longer than the original American revolutionaries. But regardless of demographic, because of the efforts of our forefathers and foremothers, none of us today has to battle the United Kingdom or argue with the Supreme Court to gain the right.
We, this week, have a much smaller task. We do not have to fight for the right to vote. We just have to know our values, weigh them against the values of the candidates running, show up at the polls, and cast our ballots.
The US, as a whole, doesn't encourage us to vote. It would, of course, be easier if we could vote online from the comfort of our homes -- imagine if it was as easy as voting on The Voice. Some states have introduced more accessible methods, and some states have made it harder, but either way, we each have the obligation to follow through on the gift that history has given us.
Your personal schedule will be interrupted. You will have to read the ballot, pay attention, and assess it critically against your values. You will have to disregard the advertisements, which utilize advertising psychology and attempt to sway your emotions, and rationally assess what's at stake. To do this, you will have to find the right voter guide to help you with your selections. You will likely need to drive out of your way, or take a bus, or walk, enter an unfamiliar building, and interact with strangers. You might need to leave work early, or figure out what to do with the kids.
Every day of your life you overcome the impulse for inertia. You can do it now, too.
Elections only come around every so often, like mammograms, or colonoscopies, or a visit from the in-laws (or the outlaws). Unlike the former, voting will cause no discomfort to your physical body. Unlike the latter, it doesn't drink all your beer.
And on the way home, with your I Voted sticker proudly displayed on your lapel, you can go out of your way once more -- this time to pick up a sweet reward for your efforts. Go on, eat that doughnut. You deserve it.
Thank you for voting.