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The Event That Led To A First Hug With My Stepson

It was over a year in the making.

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illustration gif of stepson walking towards stepmom to give her a hug
Paige Vickers
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“Do it. I want more grandchildren,” my father said on the phone as I sat in my Manhattan apartment debating freezing my eggs. I missed my mother. She’d been dead for three years. It felt bizarre to speak with my 83-year-old dad about my declining fertility.

“I’m not sure I even want kids,” I said, although I hated the thought of being almost 40 and alone. I was single and childless and nearly 1,000 miles from my family.

Almost three years after that awkward call, I met Steve, a father of three boys, while I was in Missouri, caring for my father as his dementia progressed. Steve’s wit, intellect and compassion captivated me from our first date.

Two years later, we eloped.

As stepmom to Steve’s teens and a twenty-something, I felt like an unwanted landlord. Whenever the trio and my husband gathered in our home, they’d sit around the table, telling inside jokes and laughing. I was an outsider, baffled by their frequent quotes from films about the Griswold’s Christmas and vacations.

For years, I enjoyed the solitude of my tidy apartment in New York City. Now, the sink was full of dirty dishes, and the counter was strewn with athletic gear, take-out and cups. The boys shouted at the television as they played games and watched sports, and the dogs barked.

I didn’t recognize myself as I tried to carve a new life. Polished in a skirt and heels, I once worked as a lawyer regulating financial markets with views of the Manhattan skyline. Now, I spend my days in my suburban home office in t-shirts and shorts. Instead of legal cases, I plotted my career path while navigating a household with four midwestern males.

Meanwhile, my dad was delighted to get his wish — more grandchildren. But like my stepsons’ paternal grandfather, who suffered from Alzheimer’s, my dad couldn’t remember their names by the time they were added to his clan. The boys showed tenderness to their ailing step-grandfather whenever we gathered. Their interactions made me pause and ignited a spark of hope.

To my nieces and nephews, I was the fun aunt. We danced to “The Bear Necessities” when we watched Jungle Book. I treated them to weekends in Manhattan — shopping, sightseeing, cupcakes and pizza — and I spoiled one with a trip to France. But being a stepmom, especially to older children, didn’t come close to the ease of my role as an aunt.

To combat feeling like a stranger in my home, I made an extra effort to be kind and welcoming. I delivered ice cream to my youngest stepson after school, coordinated birthday dinners, and hosted their large extended family Thanksgiving and impromptu Christmas afterparty. But space, not effort, was evidently what the older boys needed. They moved in full-time with their mother.

Steve and I debated having our own child. Instead of deciding, we opted to keep paying the hefty egg storage fee.

A little more than a year into our marriage, our fathers died three days apart.

Standing outside the church at my dad’s funeral, I glanced over at my nieces and nephews, some I hadn’t seen in years.

I introduced my youngest stepson to his step-cousin. The boys started talking. My sibling’s twins walked over and formed a small circle. Their voices mixed with the breeze.

A flash flood of gratitude struck me. My stepson could have stayed at his mother’s or visited a friend. But here he was at my father’s funeral days after his grandpa died.

As I watched the boys interact, my husband wrapped his arm around me. I rested my head on his shoulder, feeling for the first time like I had a family beyond the two of us.

Just then a horn blew to begin the military honors ceremony for my father. My husband and stepson stood at my side as the flag over Dad’s coffin was folded, and presented to my brother, an Iraq vet.

I gazed down the line of people standing in the courtyard, seeing Dad’s children, grandchildren, and friends. But the two most important people were the duo at my side.

Two days later, we were back at church for my father-in-law’s wake and Mass. Afterward, we gathered at our home for a luncheon. My oldest stepson entered the foyer. I hadn’t seen him since he stopped living in our house months earlier.

As he walked into the kitchen, his eyes caught mine.

“I'm so sorry about your grandpa,” I said.

“You too,” he said, offering condolence for my dad along with a hug, the first we ever shared.

I may have never given my dad the biological grandchild he wanted, but through our combined grief, I was finally connecting with my husband’s sons in a way that felt like a gift from both of our fathers.

Do any of you have stepchildren? How is your relationship with them? Let us know in the comments below.

Follow Article Topics: Relationships