Her Life Unfolding
It was fairly easy on me when Erica was born. This is probably because she wasnīt mine from the start; Iīm her stepmother. I met Erica when she was four years old.
I remember being nervous because I wanted to make a good impression. Her father introduced us at a restaurant where we had gathered to have breakfast. As we waited for the meal, I used the paper placemats to make several simple origami figures for her to keep. I was paying very close attention, wondering what my life would be like if I continued dating her father.
Apparently she was paying close attention, too, because several weeks later, when I met her a second time, she was playing with paper and crayons. She diligently folded and re-folded the paper, presenting me, smiling, with an origami gift of her own design. What she didnīt know was, within those simple folds, she had caught my heart.
Eloquent, careful, bright, and eager, over time Erica graced me with her presence more and more frequently. Her father and I wed when she was nearly six. She came to live with us through an amicable custody change when she was 12. Some people say that having stepchildren is different from having children of your own. In a way, they are right. Although Erica has never uttered those dreaded words, "Youīre not my mother", it has been abundantly clear throughout our lives together that this is true. And, much of the time, it hasnīt mattered. We have crafted our own spaces in one anotherīs hearts. We have spent years building trust not born of blood but born of caring. I remember having conversations with her about the fact that there are two kinds of mothers: those who gave birth, and those who didnīt. She was not the child of my body, she was the child of my heart. I chose her. And, as luck would have it, she also chose me.
We soon found we could amuse one another fairly easily. We also found we could, at times, rest in one another. We found shared interests, and common ground. And, despite the fact that her mother and father are so much cooler and more hip than I will ever be, she seems to have found nourishment in what I uniquely had to offer. In return, I have done my best, over the years, not to embarrass her any more than was absolutely necessary.
As she has matured, she has become more outspoken. She has become a master at debate. We have, at times, had heated arguments over idiotic and inconsequential things. But despite our disagreements, and despite even her most virulent objections, she has, in my presence as well as my absence, tended to do the right thing. And not because I said so, either. Just because it was right. As she has matured, her own internal compass has been a wonder and a delight to behold. Challenging as it has been, at times, I feel so very blessed to have shared her life.
Itīs been wonderful to watch as Erica, now 20, has experienced college. Having seen her interest in so many subjects, both at school and in life, I know she will wring a great deal more from college than they intend to teach her. She is learning, in a very adult sense, how to learn. She is learning about the ebb and flow of money, what it can buy, what it cannot, and how to manage during fiscal feast or famine. And she is, most likely, still learning just how far she can procrastinate before it all explodes in a brightly colored shower of exhausted neurons.
And, of course, through all this, I, too, am learning. She is different each time I see her. As she changes, I am having to repeatedly make her reacquaintance. Over time, I will need to see anew all the qualities that I have come through repeated exposure to take almost for granted. As the distance between us inevitably grows, I must learn to see her through the worldīs eyes. I must remind myself that, although we are similar in so many ways, we are also very different. And, of course, I must continually relearn how to let her go.
It is hard to let go. I miss her laughter. I miss her curiosity. I miss her keen mind. I miss her impromptu dancing in the kitchen. But, along with millions of parents, I need to loosen my grasp on our relationship and let it gradually change. It will need to grow to span the physical and emotional distances between us. It will need to bend over time to accommodate our changing wants and needs. It will need to rest with the times between our contact. Electronic communication is quick and ubiquitous, but I need to give her the gift of my silence and let her choose when to reach for me. I need to, gradually and graciously, hand her the reins. And, as my reward, I can look forward to the privilege of watching her, day by day, continue to unfold.