|Brendan and I at my brother's wedding|
I’ll never forget picking up Brendan, my 10-year-old stepson who lives with my husband and me, from after school care one evening last year.
As he called out to me, “Hello, Mom!” a small girl he was playing with looked up from her Legos. She stared, assessing me with a puzzled look on her face.
“Brendan, who is that?” she asked, though his greeting seconds beforehand already gave it away.
“That’s my Mom,” said Brendan, in a duh-shouldn’t-that-be-obvious tone. The easygoing, big-hearted kid started calling me Mom on his own accord right after my 30-something husband and I married in March 2008. Before that, I never really considered I’d be taking on that sacred title – I always thought I’d just be Megan, or evil stepmother, or Hey You. I was beyond flattered.
But the small girl at after school care wasn’t buying it. “That’s not your Mom,” she said, matter-of-factly. “She’s too young.”
What’s that old saying…out of the mouths of babes? Funny thing is, I can sense most adults who don’t know our story are having this exact same reaction. They just hide it better via their grown-up filters. I know what it looks like: I’m 27, but could pass for 25, and I’m toting around a 10-year-old who is referring to me as his mother. It looks like I belong in a Lifetime movie special on teen pregnancy.
But that’s really the least of my worries as a 20-something stepmom. The biggest? Am I doing all this right. I can’t really swap stories with my girlfriends about whether I am or not. Most of them either just had babies, are on track to have babies, or can’t fathom having babies until the distant future. None of them would know what to do with a 10-year-old, either.
And while parental uncertainty might be universal, mine’s wrapped up in a greater 20-something uncertainty about life in general. A recent article in The New York Times Magazine that examined the 20-something age range and paralleled its ups and downs to that of adolescence said it well:
“But despite elements that are exciting, even exhilarating, about being this age, there is a downside, too: dread, frustration, uncertainty, a sense of not quite understanding the rules of the game. More than positive or negative feelings, what Arnett heard most often was ambivalence — beginning with his finding that 60 percent of his subjects told him they felt like both grown-ups and not-quite-grown-ups.”
So how does a not-quite-grown-up handle being a not-quite-Mom to a not-quite-adolescent?
I’m not-quite sure. I just do my best, teetering between being more than a stepmom and less than a biological Mom, more than a carefree youngster and less than an established adult, more than a clueless parent and less than a perfect one.
I suppose, in life, I can also be certain about Brendan – he doesn’t think I’m too young to be called Mom. And if he says it, then it must be true. Out of the mouths of babes.