My stepmom used to refer to herself when meeting my friends as “The Wicked StepMother.”
She would sign birthday cards, Christmas cards, and little love notes to me that I found on the countertops in the morning with kisses (always with real red lipstick marks) and ‘TWSM.’
And for a while, that moniker fit.
My biological parents, Naomi and Christian, were married.
They acquired two dogs, they produced two children, they tried to make it work.
It didn’t. They divorced.
My Dad dated a few different people before Cindi; my Mom dated a few people before Gilles.
But when it comes to luck- Victoria and I, by way of divorce, got two new parents.
These bonus parents would love us, care for us, clothe us, feed us and share time with us as we grew up.
Gilles had a grown daughter of his own; they didn’t seem to be that close.
Cindi had never had children of her own. We were two little bows that came on top of the Christian Kreiberg package.
And when we first met Cindi around 7 and 9 years old, we were pretty cute little bows.
We were raised well; not too bratty. Not spoiled. Willing to love new people and try new things. Not the Worst stepchildren to inherit.
Cindi took on the stepmother role with ease.
When we came out to visit, she would buy cute clothes for us, take us for rides in her convertible, bring us to picnic spots for the day to play with her friend Laela and her little boy.
It was awesome.
We had these little 1 to 3-week-long play dates where fun was always guaranteed. Then we would go back to our Mom in Quebec, and Cindi would go back to her life with Dad and other couples their age. Because her children weren’t there all the time, she could live a double-income no-kids lifestyle, not have to help with homework, find a babysitter or leave the dinner party to go put a child back to sleep etc.
Then some things changed with our living situation in Quebec.
Mom and Gilles were going their separate ways. Mom wasn’t well. She had some emotional traumas she was coping with in unhealthy ways, and my Dad wanted to take a turn at being our primary caregiver.
I haven’t ever fully asked either one of them- Dad or Cindi- but I’m fairly certain that my Dad didn’t involve Cindi in the decision to have us move in with them at 12 and 14 years old.
We were there at Dad & Cindi’s for our regular two weeks in the summer of 1998, and then one or maybe two short weeks later, we were back. With all of our worldly belongings. To Live with them.
Cindi had recently been relocated by her company from her office to a work from home situation. I don’t believe that was her first choice. Cindi isn’t the best with transitions either, so that would have been a big one for her.
Her Home was her Office. Her office was her Home now. And now there were two teenaged girls suddenly living in it.
Cindi was also going through menopause at this time.
Our Dad- god love him- didn’t really know how to go about the full-time parenting gig either.
Especially to ‘children’ our age. We were in the age of our first periods, first pimples, and first boyfriends. An age where our clothes and the way we wore our hair and/or makeup was beginning to matter. And we didn’t have a mother around to ask about these things. Our house was a veritable powder keg of estrogen and frustration.
There were a Lot of fights in these first few years.
The Wicked Stepmother label fit.
And then, slowly, with the passage of time, it didn’t.
There were a few Definitive moments in my adolescence where Cindi stepped up and took the role of parent head on. Better than Both of my biological parents. She knows what those moments are.
Over time, I let her in more, and she let me let her in a little bit more.
It wasn’t ‘easy’ or ‘perfect’ for any of us, but over time, we became a family.
And then we weren’t a family anymore.
Dad left Cindi. He left his 26-year career. He left his every-morning bus route and the home where he had started his first and only mortgage. He left his office and his family unit and moved to Yemen to take up an new oil and gas position.
By then, I had already moved out with my high school boyfriend; Victoria moved out with her boyfriend. Cindi moved to a condo in the southwest part of the city.
A year or so later, Victoria and that boyfriend hadn’t worked out. My relationship hadn’t worked out either. I was living on a friend’s couch in her basement suite and undergoing my first severe depressive episode.
My sister called my Dad.
Again, he wasn’t quite sure that he knew what to do, but he knew that Cindi might.
He bought us a condo in the building right next to Cindi’s, and Victoria and I moved in together.
We lived that way for the next 5+ years.
Over those 5 years, I had one or two slight manias (episodes of hyperactive, elevated mood and odd behavior due to bipolar disorder- which we didn’t have a label for, at that point.)
In those 5 years, I also had two episodes of severe and prolonged depression.
Each episode, I lost 20-30 pounds in the first three weeks, became pale and reclusive, and couldn’t be left alone for fear that I might harm myself.
Cindi and Victoria took care of me the best they could, and they did a Kick-Ass job.
I am Alive today because of Them.
And here’s the thing- now that I Am a Mom, when I think of ‘Mother’s Day’ and what it Means to be a Mom, I see Cindi in a way that I couldn’t before.
I see myself at 7, gangly-limbed, large-toothed and awkward, and how she Chose to love me.
I see myself at 12, angry, lost, missing my mother and desperate for stability- and how Terrifying that must have been to someone who had never had their own children.
And yet- with time and patience- we learned to love each other deeply.
I see myself during those five years I lived in the condo beside hers. At times- sullen, withdrawn, miserable, wishing for death. At times- delirious, self-obsessed, out of character, wild.
And yet- she Chose to love me.
Every time I have been severely depressed, Cindi’s condo became my safe haven.
The psych wards wouldn’t accept me onto their units because Cindi would drive me to the hospital and sit with me.
I would beg the staff to admit me to a locked pysch unit so that I didn’t harm myself. Cindi would cry in the corner and hope that they might accept me onto the unit so that I would be safe.
But, A) the preventative mental health care system in our country Sucks, so they wouldn’t admit me as I had no ‘serious’ previous suicide attempts on my record, and B ) they saw the love that Cindi had for me, and they always pulled her aside after those emergency room visits and said ‘we believe she is safest in your care.’
And I was.
Cindi would let me sleep in her bed with her in her one-bedroom condo. In my early-20’s. Skinny, sick, sweaty, suicidal. Thrashing around in her bed having panic attacks all night long.
She would wake me up for work. Make sure I got dressed. Send me to work with a packed lunch. Make me dinner as soon as I got home. And then let me crawl into her bed again for another terrible night.
And here’s the thing- I Wasn’t cute in those times.
I wasn’t a sweet little babe that emerged from her womb. I didn’t fall asleep on her breast in my early years and endear myself to her chemically as a biological child might have done.
I wasn’t hers.
I was older. Afraid. Mentally unwell. Physically large. Not cute.
And yet- she Chose to love me.
Her love is one of the Biggest testaments to who I am today.
And I want her to know that.
She didn’t ‘choose’ mothering; it chose her.
And I am Eternally grateful for that.
My stepmother, who turned out not to be wicked at all, is going through some things right now that need a little bit more love, a little bit of extra attention.
It always makes me laugh when she says “Oh, I don’t want you to have to drive here or there, or to have do this or that for me- you’re So busy! You have So much on your plate! I don’t want to be a burden on you.”
When I came to her at 12 years old, she was learning how to work from a home office, beginning menopause, and had to learn how to parent two teenaged girls in a house where our Dad was often away or otherwise unavailable.
She was busy then, too.
And I am busy these days, she’s right.
But I have allll the capacity in the world to drop what I’m doing and love on Cindi when she needs it the most- because She taught me that skill first.
She will never be a burden to me, just as she never made me feel like I was a burden to her.
If you’ve read this far- thank you. I hope that you too have someone like this in your life.
Cindi, when you read this- know that I love you to the ends of the Earth. I will drop anything for you, any time. Thank you for teaching me how to choose love.
Thank you for choosing me, so many times, over and over, when no one else could or would. Thank you for loving me.
Happy Mother’s Day!
XO, Em (TWSD :)-