My stepdaughter is amazing. She is thoughtful, generous and strong-spirited, passionate, beautiful, stylish and funny – SO funny. Her laugh is like the bubbling over of glee, like ice clinking lightly in your glass on a hot, hot summer’s day. Ask her mom. Ask her friends. Ask anyone. She was the first in our family to make her little sister laugh, lying on a hotel bed in Guatemala City late in the evening. Her little sister would sleep, and she would make eye contact, but she didn’t laugh until she laid on her back on the bed with her sister and something clicked. My stepdaughter is like that.
My relationship with her, on the other hand, is more like gravel, or smooth rocks held like treasures in one palm, like a cliff face, sheer, straight up, or like that sliver of light at the top of the cliff. Up and down. Smooth and rough. And when we are in the dark tunnel with each other, it feels like our dark is doubled by a mutual desire to show the world – or is it to show her mom? – a happy lesbian family, every moment of every day.
But having my stepdaughter home from college last month was new. Something about the way she carries herself now. More confident? Classic? Calm?
There were still the late-night visitors, the exclusive mother-daughter dates, cryptic conversations carried on primarily through mental telepathy, intuition, and a long shared history. There were still awkward negotiations about car use, and there was even one eye-roll. But this time, she also joined her sister and me for ice cream to celebrate the first day of second grade. She told me about her class schedule without my asking a single question, and she took me outside to admire the blankets and pillows stacked in her mom’s car for the ride back to college – gold, cream, blue, ornate and plump, perfect for the window seat in her new bedroom, and purchased at rock-bottom prices from a resale shop.
She spoke with me earnestly about boundary-setting and consequences, when I finally put her sister on the stairs for disrespect. She was my ally. It is those simple moments which stick.
When I moved in with her mom, it’s my stepdaughter who convinced us to move our bed away from the wall. She could see I needed space on my side. I should have known we would grow into allies then, when she was twelve. At the same time, though, she was delighted each time the big orange cat trapped me at the back of our walk-in pantry by his food bowl, hissing and swiping at me with his claws. I understand. I can relate. I am a stepdaughter, too. It still made me feel out-of-place.
I threw out all my step-parenting books a long while ago. It may have been the sentence which suggested it could take eight years for a stepfamily to gel. Also, I grew tired of translating “wife” into “partner,” changing all the genders, imagining what the authors would say about a single mom, her only daughter, and the new lesbian partner who steps in. Eventually, I wrote my own book – in my head – too worried about all the implications to actually get it down on the page. Did you know that something like 50% of step-families break up?
Yet here we are now, eight years into stepfamily life, and I finally have a story I’m willing to tell. Because I see the light now – the light at the end of our tunnel. This new calm, this new respect. I love my stepdaughter fiercely.
I’m sure that somewhere she will share her story, too – growing up with a lesbian mom, growing up Latina in a home with one, then two, then one, then two white women. After all, she is a poet, and a storyteller, and a darn good one, too. Her story won’t be the same as mine. It will start and end in different places. It will recall different things. We’ve been shaped in different ways. Our tunnels of light and dark are different, and only sometimes intertwined.
But today, this is my story. Today, it’s about light. Eight years. And the strength of love.