(Not So) Evil Stepmother
My father, at 90, just divorced his 4th wife. But that’s not what this post is about. My dad’s 3rd wife, Linda, came and spent a few days with us.
Enjoy Labor Day.
(Originally published September 2017.)
(Not So) Evil Stepmother
Fifty percent of marriages end in divorce. Where I grew up, California, it’s 60%. So, I was surrounded by stepmothers and stepfathers growing up. The mother of my best friend, Adam, after her divorce, lived with a handsome, quiet law student named Paul, who mostly only spoke when it was time for me to leave. He was one of the first men I remember thinking was cool. He had awesome sunglasses and drove the coolest cars of the eighties, nineties, and aughts as his career progressed — Datsun 260z, Porsche 911, and a Ferrari. He was a steady, present male role model for Adam and his sister, who, like me, only saw their biological father every other weekend.
A friend of mine, Jimmy, is a stepdad who traded in a life as a pilot carting and partying with the wealthy around the Caribbean for a just-add-water family — wife and two school-age daughters. He boasts of his successful effort to bond with the oldest daughter by getting her into the Wicked Tuna series and speaks of the girls as if they’re his own … and they are.
After my mom and dad split, I got my very own stepmom, Linda (“#3”). Dad’s been married 4x. #2 (my mom) referred to Linda as “that bitch,” as there was some overlap between #2 and #3 (see above: seventies California). I don’t think my mom and Linda were ever in the same room at the same time, ever. My mom refused to be in the same room with my dad until my business school graduation 20 years later, but that’s another post.
Anyway, the narrative was set up for me to dislike, even hate, my stepmom Linda. One problem though: Linda is a good person who was wonderful to me. Linda, in her twenties, had been told she couldn’t have children, so when a well-mannered eight-year-old boy, missing his two front teeth, showed up wearing cords and an Ocean Pacific shirt, she was in love.
Linda was the first person to spoil me, I mean really spoil. She would bake for me, a foreign concept in my house, as my mom worked and was British (not one with the kitchen). Linda would bake these amazing buckeye cookies, peanut butter paste enveloped in dark chocolate. When schedules would keep me from Linda and my dad for a month, she would bake buckeyes, wrap them individually in foil, and mail them to me.
One Friday she announced she was taking me to ToysRUs, where I could buy anything I wanted. Strolling through the aisles of ToysRUs, she would track my gaze and noticed me eyeing the remote control planes. She stopped me and asked which one I wanted. I was too embarrassed to say, as spending money was a crime in my household, and these were $30. No matter, if I wanted a model P-51 plane, then I was going to get it. (My father and I would later venture to a parking lot and spend several hours not getting the plane off the ground.)
Soon after, she found out that her doctors were wrong. She was expecting. When I went to the hospital to see my half sister, Linda gave me a gift — pajamas with the picture of a basset hound with lettering underneath that read “I’m special.” A dump truck on her bladder, about to push my sister through her birth canal, and Linda found the time to get me pajamas to ensure I knew she still loved me. Some people are …
Just. Born. Wonderful.
Most mammals will give their lives defending their offspring. What makes us human is not just opposable thumbs, but also our ability to cooperate. Cooperation draws on things that are uniquely human, like speech, culture, and long childhoods. One of the most noble forms of cooperation that advances the species is caring for those that aren’t biologically yours. I don’t enjoy my kids a lot of the time, and don’t enjoy others’ offspring most of the time. It’s a miracle people agree to love kids that don’t smell, look, or feel like them. Death, disease, and divorce leave a lot of kids in single-parent households, where the odds are markedly worse for the kids.
The fastest blue-line path to a better world isn’t economic growth or a better phone, but more of us becoming irrationally passionate about the wellbeing of a child that isn’t our own. The Pauls, Jimmys, and Lindas … being there, baking, watching bad TV, buying planes that won’t fly, makes us more human. My mom is gone, but this Thanksgiving my family will host Linda — my not so evil stepmom.
Life is so rich,
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