When Even a Toddler Can Tell You Don’t Belong

He looked doubtful. “You drive us to school in your bathrobe.”

“That’s actually a sign of how serious I am. I’m not bogged down by the superficial. I’m not distracted by shallow worries about my appearance.”

Angus spoke up suddenly. “I thought it was because you had trouble getting up in the morning.”

“That, too,” I admitted.

“Remember that time,” Angus said, “when you had to go into the bank in your — ”

“I think we should be quiet now,” I said. “I need to concentrate on driving.”

“One more thing,” Niklas said. “Are you part of the main family or just sort of stuck on the side?”

What a good question that was!

I don’t think anyone grows up wanting to be a stepmother. Stepmothers have a bad rap, at least in nearly every fairy tale ever told. I met my husband, Ian, in New York City when I was 26. At that point I wanted to be 1) someone who looked sexy in black, 2) the owner of a Coach handbag and 3) Stephen King (albeit female).

Stepmother wasn’t on the list. Mother wasn’t on it. Wife wasn’t even on it.

Ian was British, dashing and sophisticated. He had two children who went to boarding school in England, but that only added to his appeal, making it clear how loving and supportive he was.

When I was 29, I moved with Ian to London, where we lived in a red brick house with French doors leading to a charming little garden. My stepchildren were 15 and 13. They were still in boarding school, but now they could come home for weekends.

How did I picture us all living together in that house? I didn’t. I was like someone who shows up a bridge tournament and says, “Oh. I didn’t know we’d be playing cards.”

I didn’t want to play cards; I wanted to play house.

Most everybody knows teenagers can be disrespectful, sarcastic, ungrateful, self-righteous, superior and lazy. Imagine living with two teenagers who aren’t related to you. Now imagine being a teenager and living with a 29-year-old woman who’s disrespectful, sarcastic, ungrateful, self-righteous and superior. (I wasn’t lazy but only because I couldn’t afford to be.)

Conflict simmered, then boiled over. Being snide was everyone’s favorite weapon. No subject was too small to argue about: vacuuming, laundry, taking out the trash, eating the last chocolate biscuit, using the last square of toilet paper.

One argument about forgetting to put the milk back in the fridge lasted for weeks. I wrote Y.A. novels…

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