I was on the phone with my nana this morning (for those who are unfamiliar with my family tree that would be my step-father’s mother) and we fell onto the topic of love. It came up when we started discussing ‘B’, and the difficult task it is for step-parents and grandparents to express who they are in relation to a toddler. The biggest struggle is to rest assured that the child, and the birth parents’/grandparents’ do not feel like you are trying to take the place of their blood ties, but instead growing to become an addition to it.
When daddy died and David entered our lives quickly thereafter he was adamant that we call him David. He did not want us or my dad’s parents to fall under the impression that he was there to erase the memory of our father, but rather just be a father in addition to. As an adult I wish we had come up with some other name to signify our bond, calling him dad now seems unnatural after years of not, and calling him David seems too informal and cold. That’s why I now just stick referring to him as the kids do, PawPaw.
When ‘B’ was only two years old he would call me mommy, something that truly irked me. Not because I didn’t love him, but because I felt as if I was betraying his mother, using her absence as an opportunity to step in and take her place. So each time the tiny two year old would call me mommy I would quickly reply “My name is Jess”. Josh would point out how incredibly cold I sounded, and I agreed that I felt like a step mother that wanted to differentiate myself from our child. Then I brainstormed, the majority of my grandparents were steps, they didn’t go by their first name, but they did have their own unique pet names. As far as steps we had a Papaw & Nana, a Granddaddy & a Grandpa James, leaving the only unloving step I ever had to go by her first name, Connie. So then I considered perhaps using a term that allows him to acknowledge who I am without taking the place of ‘mommy’. As a child my mom teased me, calling me Mother Jessica as I doted over my brothers day and night. I decided to take that and put a Mama & Papa’s twist to it and go by Mama Jess. It was simple, it was easy, and hopefully it wouldn’t be overstepping his mother’s comfort zone.
I expressed these struggles with my nana, expressing to her how difficult it was to communicate to a now five year old ‘B’ that although I may have a different name, and may not be mommy doesn’t mean I love him any less than his sisters, nor should he love me any different than his parents. Nana relayed to me when she first met us, my brother Chase was only 6, and he came in bragging to Nana about how glad he was to meet her, and that now he had 5 grandfathers and 4 grandmothers! Nana looked back at him and said “you are exactly right, I am not here to take the place of your dad’s parents, but to be just another on your list of grandparents. And no matter where the road leads or what should happen in the future, I am your nana until the day I die.” It was heartwarming to hear, and it was even more amazing to consider it from a new angle outside my childhood naivety.