Most of us have experienced having our mother call us by our siblings’ – and even our pets’ – names, going through the full family roster and waiting for the right person to respond. It becomes stuff of family legend, particularly when the team comes together on it, seizing the moment to shine a spotlight on the crazy lady’s errant or – dare I say – lazy ways.
Okay, so now I’m that crazy lady. Or, at least my sister thinks so.
Since the day Ellie was born, something in my brain malfunctions when she and Priscilla are in close proximity. Literally, if I don’t stop for several seconds before referring to one of them, inevitably the other’s name comes out. It’s so strange. And it would be more accurate to say that Cill doesn’t find it funny; she clearly finds it insulting. Every time. Nothing against Ellie, of course, but I get the distinct impression that she thinks I am not trying hard enough.
So, we’ve developed a routine….She gets annoyed. I get defensive. We get mad. Not a good outcome when all I’m trying to do is refer to someone. Then again, I sympathize, since I recall all too well how being referred to by the dog’s name can feel like a reflection of how much you are not loved. Now the deliverer, I know that nothing could be further from the truth.
“Misnaming,” in fact, is a real thing. As described in this article, “our mixing up of people’s names is a sort of tic that tends to follow its own set of rules. So no, you aren’t confusing your best friend’s names because you’re self-centered or dismissive. In fact, there are numerous factors at play in your brain, and none of them are because you aren’t paying attention to the person standing in front of you (though, when you’re on the receiving end, it can totally feel that way).”
And, sweetjesus, apparently once you make the mistake, you are exponentially more likely to repeat it. Argh. And I have… for 20 years. Not even the wisdom on the internet is explanation enough, suggesting that those with the affliction should consider themselves lucky to love multiple people so deeply. Priscilla has “suggested” (emphatically, I might add) for years that I just try a little harder.
Alas, there is a god. You can imagine how thrilled I was when the other day Priscilla called Ellie “Esther” (her daughter). And then she did it again. And again. Oh, sweet vindication!
While we’re on the subject of names, I’ve taken on a new role that comes with a name that is totally foreign to me: stepmother. It’s hard enough to go from girlfriend to fiancé, and from fiancé to wife. But stepmom? I hadn’t prepared myself for that one. After all, my kids are my kids, and Jim’s are his; nothing was going to change that. Indeed, I certainly had given much thought to it. Susie and Rob are adults – as are Nick and Ellie – so I really hadn’t anticipated that our having gotten married would change the dynamic in any way.
Of course, though, it has, and in ways they never talk about in the movies. There’s no drama about it. No you-love-them-more-than-you-love-us. I don’t have to “mother” these chickadees or weave them into my parenting fabric. Rather, the existence of these special humans in my life has given me invaluable perspective on my relationships with Nick and Ellie. As my appreciation and love for Susie and Rob – and Rob’s wife, Pooja – grows, I feel an increased curiosity about my kids and the ways they are navigating through and planning for life. I’d always felt more responsibility than awe, and that didn’t bode well for them. Our recent time together highlighted just how important this awakening is. I’m embarrassed to admit that I was prone to seeing Susie as independent when I viewed Ellie as insolent; Rob and Pooja’s righteousness looked like rudeness when coming from Nick.
What’s with that? Have I been so focused on my children as a reflection of me that I’ve neglected to see them for who they are? The answer surely is yes, and I am ashamed of myself and sad for them. They have deserved better. Nick and Ellie are deeply complex young adults who approach life in extraordinarily different ways – not just from one another, but from me as well. Sure, there are many occasions when we all see ourselves in one another, but I’m starting to get that it’s their unique incorporation of those traits and behaviors that makes them who they truly are meant to be.
Why was I holding on so tight? Is being like me such a fabulous end-prize? Not to be deprecating, but really, do I think that my way is the right way? I have decades of therapy bills that would indicate not.
Despite the potentially awkward colliding of the Crum, Frost, and Lewis worlds, we actually enjoyed a fun, chaotic, and rich family vacation together. We got to know each other better, and we did so easily with the gentle backdrop of nothing to “do.” Yes, during this time on this wonderful little Bahamian slice of island heaven, I, in particular, was given a chance to grow as an individual, and I seized it, not simply because I think it is essential to our ability to coalesce as a family but also because it feels powerfully good.
So, thank you, Susie, Rob, and Pooja. I can see clear as day that it is because I am your stepmother (a.k.a. stepparent, stepmom, step-monster) that I am going to be much better mother (a.k.a. mom, mommy, monster).
Please, though, you can just call me Lucy.