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Saturday, May 14, 2011

The unsung mother

A year ago on Mother’s Day, I came across a picture of my kids online. It was not a picture I had taken. It wasn’t a moment we shared together. And it was then that I realized that my kids have a life that I am not a part of. Intellectually, I had known that for a long time. They go to school without me. They have playdates without me. They have visited their grandparents 2,500-miles away without me. They live in another house half the week. Without me.

But that photo wasn’t just a snapshot of them at the park or at the beach or at a restaurant. It was a picture of my kids snuggled up with my ex-husband’s girlfriend. The picture was taken on Mother’s Day. I knew that because R wore his sweatshirt printed with cars, and C wore his Giants’ tee shirt—the clothes they were wearing when I dropped them off earlier that day. And I saw that picture because the girlfriend and I have some mutual friends on Facebook and it showed up in my newsfeed.

At the time, that picture felt like a kick in the stomach. Who exactly was that woman cuddled up on the couch with my boys? I knew a little about her because my kids talked about her and her dog and cats. But she was a stranger to me. At the same time, she is someone who spent lots of time with my kids. They are comfortable around her. They get excited when they see her car parked outside their dad's house. They ask if they will get to see her over the weekend. They like her. A lot.

After seeing that picture, I spent a bit of time struggling with my feelings. I wanted my kids to like her because if they didn’t, well, that would be bad. But I didn’t want them to like her too much because, well, I’m their mom.

A few months later the universe did me a huge favor. It gave me a friend who helped me see things from the other side—as in, from the girlfriend’s perspective. My friend had fallen in love with and married a man with two young children. Those kids are about to graduate from high school now, but she helped raise them. She helped make their lunches and drive them to school and comfort them in the middle of the night. For fifty percent of their lives, she was their mother too.

From the time they were six years old, she was just as much a part of their lives as their biological mother. She loves them as her own and refers to them as her bonus kids, because step kids seems too impersonal. Years from now, I suspect my kids won’t remember a time before their bonus mom, just as they won’t remember a time before their bonus grandparent. He came into our lives when R was an infant.

I feel fortunate that my ex chose someone who has welcomed my kids into her life. I feel relief that my kids want to spend time with her. I feel lucky that there is another person who loves my kids and wants to be a part of their lives everyday, and especially, on Mother’s Day. Because there could never be too many people loving my kids. Bonus parent. How lucky. For all of us.

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