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Step-Family Ties
Jordan Temple
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I wasn’t with my mother last Thanksgiving. I wasn’t with my father, either. I spent the holiday with my father’s ex-wife and her family. I’ve been close to them ever since my dad married my (now ex) stepmother, Dawn, about 10 years ago.

I still call Dawn my mother because she takes care of me and gives me good advice. She’s stern but understanding, and is the mother of my little brother, Joshua, 8, and sister, Tara, 10, whom I love very much. She encourages my relationship with them and keeps me up-to-date on Joshua’s drum recitals and Tara’s piano lessons. When I visit their house about once a month, I watch TV, chase them and play board games with them.

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I was 7 or 8 when I first met Dawn. She and my father would pick me up from my mom’s house for weekend visits. Luckily, my mother and stepmother got along and pretty much saw eye-to-eye on parenting. They’d talk on the phone about me, Tara and Joshua. My mother would send me over to their house with a gift for my stepmother during the holidays and vice versa.

Three of Everything

I never thought about it until recently, but it’s refreshing that everyone was cool with each other. My mother had met my step-grandparents, and my stepmother knew my mother’s mother.

I recently found out that my mom sometimes got sad when I left home to see my dad and stepmom. She said I looked like my stepmother and father’s child when I was with them, and people often mistook me for Dawn’s son. But my mom never seemed upset or jealous around me. And I liked having three families (my mother’s side, my father’s side and my stepmother’s side) because it was like I had three of almost everything. I had plenty of aunts and cousins.

I have a good relationship with my mom and I appreciate all the time and energy she sacrificed to raise me as a single parent after she and my dad broke up. But it was good having Dawn as another person in my corner. Just like with her own children, she wanted to see me succeed. She also understood me a lot better than my father because she’s younger, and her job is working with students at a college. She’s always had a good influence on me.

One of the greatest memories I have of my stepmother is when she let me hold my little sister, Tara, for the first time. Tara was such a remarkable thing to me. I’d never had a sister, and never held such a little baby (just a week old). I fed her, changed her and burped her. It was wild. I knew that my stepmother had to trust me to let me do all this, and that was very special to me.

Someone I Can Talk To

image by Yong Han Chen, image by Yong Han Chen

The relationship between my stepmother and father broke down after 10 years. I could see them disagreeing on things. My father worked so much and so hard, it seemed they had no time to work out their differences. My stepmother told my brother, sister and me about the divorce at the same time. My father moved out and they sold the house.

But I never thought my relationship with my stepmother would change, and it didn’t. After a couple of months, I called her and went to visit with her and the kids again.

I could talk to her, and I think I got along with her better than I could with my father. He sometimes asked me if I was still speaking to Dawn, but he didn’t seem upset to hear that I was. I liked knowing that Dawn and her entire side of the family wanted me to come over on weekends as much as I wanted to see them.

To this day, Dawn talks to me about issues I may have in my neighborhood or school, and about current events. She’s always told me the basic parents’ rhetoric: that education is important, to study and also to listen to my (biological) mother. My mother talks to me about these things, too, but I like having the perspective of more than one “mom.”

A Family Thanksgiving

I go to my stepmother’s house once every month or two, but last November was my first Thanksgiving there. When I got to the house, my step-grandma and step-grandpa greeted me with open arms. I could see that my brother and sister had missed me a lot. They played video games with their cousin, while everyone else made turkey, macaroni and cheese and cornbread. I helped put together the lasagna.

The tablecloth was laid out and an extra leaf was put into the serving table. By the time my step-aunt brought in eggnog ice cream, I was already rubbing my stomach. It felt like a very regular, irregular Thanksgiving. I could taste happiness as I munched on a turkey leg.

It felt good to pack up my bags and be somewhere besides my house for the holidays for a change. I watched football, and saw my Jets’ season go even further down the tubes. The Jets lost 34-3, but hanging out with my family, I felt like a winner. My step-family is just as important to me as my immediate family because I know even if I may not see them as much as I’d like, they care about me just the same. Their good wishes for me to do well in college mean as much to me as my blood family’s wishes, and that is truly something that I am thankful for.

It was also pretty cool to have two sets of Thanksgiving leftovers. Neither tasted better than the other, because I loved them both.

(NYC-2008-11-17)