Whenever anyone points at our stroller and asks, “Oh, is he your first baby?” there’s an awkward moment. Usually, I’ll just say, “Yes,” which is technically true. I’ve only ever been pregnant once. But if it’s someone my husband and I expect to talk to for longer than it takes to get through the grocery check-out line, I’ll usually say, “Actually, he (pointing at my seven-month-old son) has a thirteen-year-old brother from his (pointing at my husband) first marriage.” People usually then ask how old my husband is (thirty-one) and then nod knowingly, as if they know the score: deadbeat or superdad.Of course, he’s neither. He’s just, to his first child, a loving but non-custodial parent with all that goes with the title: weekly phone calls, monthly child-support payments, seasonal visits. My stepson, Blake, who is adorable and brilliant and immense fun to have around, lives most of the year with his mother in Texas. We fly him up for a few weeks of the summer and a couple of weeks at Christmas, and we go, or just my husband goes, down to Texas a couple of times a year for a few days at a time. It’s not nearly enough, but we take what we can get.
Last week, a remark made by Rebecca Walker (feminist icon, momoirist and future Babble contributor) about how parents love their biological kids more than their non-biological kids caused the blogosphere to erupt, just as it did when Angelina Jolie said she felt “so much more for” her adopted kids than her daughter, “a blob.” I don’t understand why anyone would say she loved one kid, or one parent, more than another, even under duress. Then again, I’m plunged into a crisis of conscience every time someone asks to be my MySpace friend, so maybe I’m not the best judge of what’s too difficult a loyalty question.
Last week, we ran a piece on the difficulties and rewards of international adoption, and this week we’re running two very different stepmother stories: one by Lisa Selin Davis about coming to love her boyfriend’s daughter as her own and then losing her as the relationship broke up; another by Lily Burana about loving her stepsons so much she hesitates to have a baby of her own.
Personally, I love being a stepmother. What a luxury to have a big kid just plunked down in your life like that. And how lucky my baby is to have such a cool big brother. Of course, sometimes Blake gets homesick for Texas when he’s with us, especially, I’ve noticed, if we zealously over-schedule him into every play and baseball game and museum in the city. (Mary-Louise Parker, in our interview last week, showed she has already learned that lesson.) So now when Blake’s around, we just blend up some milkshakes, throw a ball around at the park and play a few thousand post-dinner hands of high-low poker, taking turns holding the baby and protecting the piles of chips from the cats’ kamikaze missions. Nights like that are worth a little awkwardness at the supermarket.