Guest post by Tarah Cammett
Writing for me has always been simple. A therapy of the mind. A way to release my past. Process breakups and major life changes. Throw it out there in the Universe and remove it from my spirit. What I have realized as I have tried to write about my experiences so far of being a ‘Stepmother’ – or ‘Understudy’ as I so often refer to it, is that I’m struggling. Greatly. It’s easy to write about the past; things that no longer exist or serve me anymore. It is however, extremely difficult to write about something deeply personal and ever present in my day to day life. More so, how do I possibly encapsulate all that I have experienced? How this has changed me? How wonderful and frightening it’s all been. I can’t. Not in a simple blog post but I have to start somewhere. So consider this a Preface. An introduction. Perhaps this will be a breakthrough and a journey into a new place as a writer. Perhaps it will be an utter disaster. You’ll have to be the judge.
About a year and a half ago I was coming off the tail end of my own version of ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ and unwinding from an incredible spiritual journey of the soul. I had spent months traveling, talking, seeking. Hours on therapy couches and a lot of time spent with an overly priced Shaman (which by the way was worth every penny). My mind was at peace. I finally felt at rest, that I had let these ‘things’ that had followed me around, plaguing me, go. I had discovered acceptance in the not knowing and in the just being. I was fiercely content or more so adamant about being alone and savoring every moment of it. It was of course, in that moment, that my now husband walked into my life and brought with him his wee 1-yr old baby girl.
My life for all of its chaos has always been very controlled. Well, because I have controlled it. Controlled chaos. Maybe even on some levels planned chaos. But I didn’t plan them. I didn’t plan on him regardless of the secret hope of one day finding someone who my soul sort of melted into but I most certainly did not plan her.
He was easy. Every day that we spent together I fell more and more. He became funnier. Smarter. Sexier. The boy that I had assured would never be anything more than a ‘buddy’ and/or ‘lover’, I found myself wanting to rush home from work to see. He was just there, and never left and it was as if we had always been. It just made sense. And then, well, then I was introduced to his daughter. She wasn’t what got me – regardless of how beautiful she was, it was the way he was with her. So hyper conscious. So madly in love. So gentle and patient. Nail in the coffin. I was a goner. There is nothing sexier than a good father.
She and I weren’t so easy at first. It wasn’t that children made me uncomfortable. I love kids. I have god babies and nephews and until I met the Peanut they were the center of my Universe. It was that upon meeting her I realized that I had to shift what I understood of love. I knew in an instant that I would have to accept my place in my husband’s heart. I would never be first. And that was something that I had never experienced. There would always be someone ahead of me. It was something my ego wasn’t accustomed to. Maybe in the beginning I was weary of her because of that. Or because she was so painfully shy she didn’t immediately come running into my arms. Perhaps it was the horrible relationship he had with her mother that I internally projected distaste for on to her. All I can express, if I was to be completely truthful was that it wasn’t love at first sight. For either of us.
It was ultimately a slow evolution of learning about unconditional love in a way that I had not yet known. Getting to know a person, who is older and has sort of worked out their idiosyncrasies is one thing. Getting to know an infant who’s changing every instant is another. It was like navigating a mine field. Ok. It still is. As a parent, it’s your choice and there’s a sort of genetic bond that prods you through. As a ‘stepparent’ it’s a bit different. This little intruder kind of appears and you’re supposed to just love them. I guess in writing that, I just realized it is the same for any type of parent – genetic or not. Perhaps it’s just that as a ‘stepparent’ I found myself being hyper cautious, and hyper positive. Both of which made me feel off kilter.
Not long into it I found this weird ‘instinct’ I wasn’t aware existed. I knew what her cries meant. I knew what we should do for her. I would always wake up 5 minutes before I would hear her on the monitor and wait knowing that she was about to wake as well. As we adjusted to each other we began to play and laugh and every time I got her to smile or giggle my heart melted as my internal ego high fived herself at the minor accomplishment. I found myself personalizing her whims less. It’s ok if she wanted Daddy instead of me. It just makes the times that she does ask for me all the more sweet. She became my first thought in the morning. My last thought at night. Her well-being. Her future. Loving her made me feel closer to him. We had a shared goal. Her existence.
Well, and then I became the cliché. Poopy diapers, booger filled noses. Singing weird made up random songs that made her laugh uncontrollably. Reading books in funny accents and making silly faces to combat hers. We became a couple. The same way that two stranger’s sort of fall in love I guess. Losing inhibitions, slowly being yourself. Getting to know one another and then finally just realizing that everything weird about them is something great about you.
It’s not to say that this love isn’t without struggle. I despise the word ‘stepmother’ or ‘stepchild’. I don’t think of her as something in lieu of. She’s part of my soul circle. Souls travel in circles throughout lifetimes to find each other again and I believe she found me early on in this one because I’m supposed to teach her something. But what? Sometimes that thought plagues me. I have no creepy notions that I’m her ‘true’ mother. She has a mother. I respect her mother’s genetic and emotional role. I have no desire to replace it, circumvent it, or trump it. I just want to be a positive force in her Universe as well. Someone that she believes in. Yes, when we’re at the grocery and the cashier wants to recap the perils of childbirth and gives me the, “Well you remember what that was like…” line, do I nod in vaginal unity? Of course. It’s easier. But I am not her mother. Maybe that does hurt on some level given my affinity for her but maybe what hurts more is that I don’t know how to ‘label’ our relationship. To find a word, or a phrase that encapsulates it so that when it’s said people nod knowingly – that’s what I would like. A word that means more than ‘step’ anything.
There was a moment a couple months back. She and I had been dancing in the kitchen (we do that often). It had just been one of those fantastic weekends where we laughed and played all weekend, everything was just happy. We were packing her up to return her to mother’s. It’s always a shit feeling that sweeps over hubs and I. We don’t want it to end, but it is what it is and in essence the only way the Peanut has ever known. I digress. I was on my knees giving her kisses, telling her how much I loved her and that I would miss her and how proud I was of her and she began stroking my hair, then my cheeks. “Mama” she said. “Yes, you’re going to see Mama in a few minutes and you’re going to have so much fun with her” I responded. She shook her head no. She again stroked my cheeks and said, “Mama” and she stared intently into my eyes. I knew what she meant. It was her way of acknowledging my presence as a maternal figure in her life, she of course wasn’t calling me her mother. It was the only way at two years old she knew how to express herself. I cried for pretty much a solid three hours after she left, just out of love, and wonder, and maybe a twinge of sadness. I’m quite sure when I saw her a few days later she put out her hand and told me to, “Go!” so that she could be alone with Daddy but that’s how it works. The ebb and flow.
I can’t possibly write about all of this in any succinct logical way. One day I was wild and single and the next day I was picking out a crib and baby proofing a house. I could create 80 chapters on each moment, emotion, phase, understanding, point of being, crushing moment of sadness, elation….you name it. For now, I know this. You are always exactly where you are supposed to be. My husband brought me a beautiful gift. A dowry if you will. He brought me a teacher. Someone who will challenge all that I have and will come to know and see of this world and myself every single day. She might not be mine but god dammit she is part of my tribe and I will do whatever I can to protect her and to give her light. My compass broke a long time ago so I’m navigating by moon phases, toddler emotions, laughter and levels of exhaustion but somehow, I still wake up every morning excited at what the sounds of the monitor will bring. So I’m going with it.
Thanks for listening.
Tarah is a hippie corporate sell-out Marketing Director by day and a soul seeking Moon follower by night, hiding away in a tiny town by the ocean.