My mom hand-makes stepping stones. Beautiful patterns, birds, scenery, and even team logos. I have two right out in front of my house: my husband’s Ohio State University logo stepping stone and my West Virginia University “Flyin’ WV” stepping stone, each strategically placed on opposite sides of the entryway to our front porch. As I was sitting outside drinking my morning coffee watching my hummingbirds joyfully drinking their fresh nectar, my mind began wandering and I started thinking about the purpose of these stepping stones. Sure, they symbolize a part of who we are by the pattern or logo we choose to display, but moreover, they symbolize durability and strength and provide us a clear and safe path to walk along.
From thinking about stepping stones came thoughts of step-parents. Why? I don’t know…maybe because of the word “step” or the fact my stepdad encouraged my mom to make and sell her beautiful stepping stones at their local farmer’s market. Regardless of how my thoughts transformed from stones to parents, I got to thinking about my stepdad, Charlie, and how badly I miss him. My tears from this morning have now turned into the words of this post.
Being a step-parent is hard. It’s hard for the “new” mom or dad. It’s hard on the kids. It’s hard on the parent who allowed their family to be combined with a new one. New rules and new expectations. New memories. New love. It’s been a difficult journey for my family as my husband is just now getting the hang of being a first-time parent after nearly three years, and my kids are just now getting used the fact their new stepdad isn’t going anywhere. With all this being said, just because a stepparent is involved doesn’t mean they can’t enjoy all the perks being a parent has to offer.
I’d like to consider my family as well-blended. There are step-everything’s in my family: step-moms, step-dads, step-aunts and step-uncles; step-sisters and brothers, step-cousins and step-grandparents. With all these steps, we have one hell of a staircase in my family, which is an amazing thing really, being able to add to our lives in the ways the do.
I consider myself very fortunate. I have an amazing step-mom, a beautiful and kind step-sister, a talented step-nephew and an unforgettable step-dad. You see, although they all came into my life after my birth does not mean we haven’t shared moments that are typically given to a biological parent or sibling. At some point, my step-parents and I have each provided the other with our own “stepping stones.”
My step-mom, Danielle, came into my life when I was only seven. Sure, I remember the first time I met her: going to her house and meeting her daughter, getting upset there was another woman in my life that wasn’t my mother and her kissing my dad, rebelling against staying the night and throwing my sleeping back over the side of the staircase refusing to play “house.” Those times changed, though, and since that first meeting I’ve grown to adore Danielle, had some of the best times and shared many “firsts,” just as it is with a biological parent.
Danielle picked me up from my last day of second grade and took me to my first day of third grade. She introduced me to my first game of bowling, my first taste of homemade macaroni and cheese, my first scary movie, my first game of Pinochle, Hearts, Hand and Foot and Canasta, my first episode of The Young and the Restless (which I still watch 28 years later), and even drove through a snow storm to watch my oldest child being born. She was there for my high school graduation, my college graduation, my (first) wedding and my (last) divorce. I’ve called her numerous times to help me out of a situation and she gladly accepted the responsibility. I’ve cried to her, with her and for her when she fell very ill several years ago and nearly lost her life. We’ve laughed so hard we’ve literally peed our pants, and on more than one occasion.
I wasn’t as fortunate to have spent the number of years with my step-dad, Charlie, as I have had with Danielle. I was 21-years old when I first met Charlie. And pregnant. As a matter of fact, when Charlie met me I was a hot mess. I was pregnant, alone, broke; an emotional wreck with out direction. I was fragile and scared, and somewhat resistant on meeting anyone new. At that point, all I knew was that I didn’t need “another parent” scolding me on how I was handling my life. Somehow, though, Charlie not only saw this of me but he engaged himself in my train wreck of a life…and just hugged me…and said, “That baby’s hungry. Let’s fix you two something to eat.”
You see, Charlie was never considered just Charlie to me. He was, and still is, my dad. From that very first moment of meeting him, the same connection we had until his death nearly two months ago formed out of his instant love for me, and my needing him far more than what I had known that day 15 years ago. And not just that instant love for me but also for the unborn child I carried in my womb, who also had an instant connection with him.
Charlie and I shared a very special bond with one another. I’m not sure how it happened, it just did. We had such a close bond that it seemed surreal to me that I wasn’t biologically his. Even though Charlie wasn’t there for my first birthday or my high school graduation, he was there throughout my pregnancy everyday bringing me something new for the baby, cooking me dinner, and even making sure I had sauerkraut in the cupboard to curb my cravings. He was there for my daughter’s (his first grandchild’s) delivery. He was there for my son’s (his first grandson’s) delivery. He was there by my side while I was in grad school…sometimes calling him crying because I was so frustrated with the amount of school work I had to complete. When I graduated, he stood as tall as my biological parents did when they called my name to walk across that stage and receive my diploma.
We cut down our first homegrown Christmas tree together, he played Santa and put all my kids’ Christmas presents under the tree in the middle of the night many times together; we planned parties and birthday’s together (especially for my mom), he taught me how to make many of his favorite recipes and desserts (most notably his homemade marshmallows and bean soup), and he and mom made surprise trips to come visit me when they both knew I was stressed or struggling and simply “needed them.” He also knew to never let me cut the Thanksgiving ham as I cut them “into slabs, not slices” but ended up buying me a carving knife for Christmas one year so I could learn to cut a ham the right way before “murdering his ham” again.
Charlie was there during many difficult times of my life, too. Like during my first divorce. Lol, he actually stood by the back door with a shotgun in case my crazy ex-husband came by in the middle of the night to harass me. He was also there when I found out I needed a hysterectomy, held my hand before I went in for surgery and was right by my side waiting until I woke up afterwards. He encouraged me to take a leap of faith by moving to West Virginia, which meant moving far away from him and my mom, and reassured me that home would always be there waiting if I ever needed it to be.
I was able to provide him with many firsts and memories, too. I gave him his first grandchild, whom he loves more than anything on this planet. Charlie and Aubrey were like two peas in a pod. They did everything together: built a shed together (even autographed the rafters, which are still there today), went sledding together, he built her a tree swing, took her in the mornings to their favorite gas station for their fresh doughnuts. He and mom took Aubrey on vacation with them many times to their special place of Tennessee. He took Aubrey on her first helicopter ride, taught her how to drive the riding lawn mower, taught her how to cook and taught her how to be a lady and what was expected of her. They watched “Dr. Oz” together everyday during her summers spent there, to the point that after she returned home after her visit they’d call each other and share opinions about that day’s episode.
I took Charlie to his first college football game, and man did we have a blast. We made it a ritual that every year for his birthday we’d go to the WVU/Louisville game…and the last three of his four years of his life we did just that. Twice in Louisville and once in Morgantown. I also introduced mom and him to their first game of lazer tag, and although we’re not young anymore, we beat our opponents! Lol.
I am very lucky to have been given so many wonderful memories with Charlie and I miss him so, so much. With all this being said, can’t you see how important a step-parent can be to any child’s life? I mean, Charlie may have been a step-parent, but we shared as many memories and had a bond just as a biological parent/child can have. There was no separation there. He wasn’t there for all my stepping stones in life, but he was there for the majority of the most important or most needed ones, and for those I will always be grateful.